The Character Movement

Students dancing on retreat acting silly and laughing

Laughter is the greatest equalizer

When is the last time you took time to play? To make space for spontaneity, to let goofiness be your guide and to laugh — freely, openly and in your own signature way. Remember how that laughter felt? The boisterous bubbling sensation as your lungs filled with oxygen. The lightness of it. The clean, bright clarity it left in its wake. And the openness, the newfound space in your heart and in your mind. When was the last time?

If you are a Youth Frontiers Retreat Facilitator, the answer is no farther away than “Friday.” Every day on retreat, our staff starts with play. The silliness they put forth for the students elicits all sorts of laughter — from giggles to guffaws — and it earns them the right to be heard. Because, before we can talk about character, we have to forge a connection with students. Laughter helps us do it.

The strategy behind the levity

Laughter is not just fun and games. Laughter actually gives us a strategic edge when working with youth. Making them laugh assures them that the retreat is not just one long, boring lecture, and it actually helps them feel better about being there — on a physiological level. When students laugh, their bodies release endorphins, which help to put them at ease. When students are relaxed and having a good time, they are more receptive to our staff and to the music, stories and character lessons they share.

Moreover, giving students permission to be goofy eliminates some of the pressure to maintain a facade with each other in order to appear “cool.” Laughter is a great equalizer. When students are laughing together, no one is laughing at each other. United first by goofiness, students can let down their guards and then be themselves. Once they choose to be authentic with one another, then we can help them build positive community.

The games and activities we participated in during the first half of the day seemed like nothing profound at first, just fun. But as I left the gym we had been in all day, I realized that those might’ve been the most educational part of the day. We had to work as a team and act like ourselves, even if that isn’t how we normally act.


— Youth Frontiers Retreat Student Participant


We hope that the community we build on retreat extends beyond one day, and that’s where you come in. You have the power to help shape a world wherein youth feel truly accepted. This responsibility is serious, but that doesn’t mean you always have to be. The next time you try connecting with the kids in your life, try to lead your conversation with laughter. Let down your guard so they know they can too. So, will you allow yourself to be a little goofy today — for goodness’ sake?

Written by Sarah Gavigan, Youth Frontiers Communications Specialist.

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