Humor and Humility

I recently came across this prayer from Daniel Lord, S.J.:

Let me have too deep a sense of humor ever to be proud.
Let me know my absurdity before I act absurdly.
Let me realize that when I am humble I am most human,
most truthful, and most worthy of your serious consideration.
During the first day of my large Introduction to Psychology classes I tell the students about the kinds of traits I admire in people. One trait I prize highly is what I call ironic self-regard. This is in contrast to most pop psychology which promotes positive self-regard (i.e., a high self-esteem). But the trouble with positive self-regard is that it often implies social comparison: How am I doing in relation to others? Worse, too much self-esteem slides into egotism, selfishness and narcissism.

So I like to practice ironic self-regard. For me, ironic self-regard is the ability to laugh at yourself, to not take yourself too seriously, to lighten up a bit about your virtues and your sins. Of course, there are dangers here as well. There are things in life, many things really, that require seriousness and gravity. But when it comes to the self I think, for the most part, an ironic stance is very healthy, psychologically and spiritually. As Daniel Lord's prayer illustrates, humor is a wonderful route to humility. Humility, here, becomes less about attenuating one's positive self-regard than shifting over to the ironic stance, learning to see oneself as silly, self-defeating, and clownish. Not in a despairing way (humor can become cynical), but with delight and good cheer. It is true that life is full of saints and sinners. But I don't spend a lot of time during the day carving up my social world using those categories. For me, we all seem more like a ship of fools and me, proudly, as the captain.


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9 thoughts on “Humor and Humility”

  1. I agree! Humility is holding both yourself and the other in the picture, while "holiness" or sanctification is comparison, positioning oneself "above" another. One affirms commonality, while the other affirms differences. One is self-protective and self-promoting, while the other is open and honest.

    Healthy self-esteen is also aware of valid differences, and honors these differences, where is no need to correct, or change another because there is acceptance. But, to accept another, one must be assured of being "safe", where boundaries are respected.

  2. Because this is a "sore" spot for me, I must add, that co-dependence is not humility! And co-dependence is what has been suggested by many in the Christian community as humility, either through dependence on "God" or grovelling dependence on another. Co-dependence allows another to "run over" and do damage without any accountability. That is not healthy self-esteem but fear on one side, and arrogance on the other.

  3. Upon reading the title of this post I immediately thought of a chapter on Humility and Humor from David Augsburger's book "Dissident Discipleship - a Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God and Love of Neighbor." The book outlines eight major tenants of the Anabaptist tradition. One of those tenants is "the practice of Habitual Humility." It's a great book, but I remember furrowing my brows a bit when I came to this chapter. At first I didn't see all of the connections or why humor would play such a key role with humility...but it does.

    Here are a couple of quotes...
    "In humorous humility, one has learned not to take oneself too seriously or to respond defensively. Once one accepts the fact that life is laced with surprises and embarrassments, one relinquishes the demand to always be above shame."

    "Humility is being gentle with the fool who lives within me--
    the fool who pretends to know more than I actually do, to be more sure about things than anyone can be, to be optimistic about the impossible or pessimistic about the probable.
    the fool who talks too much when presence is all that is needed, or talks too little when comfort of kindness must be put into words.
    the fool who takes too many changes when it would be wiser to act with caution, or refuses to risk and dare when what is needed is foolhardy courage..."

  4. Forgive me, but religion and faith have really nothing to do with "common sense". I'd much rather understand these issues without the underpinnings of religious language. Discipleship is useful for the "higher life" type of Christian faith, which is nothing other than "lording it over", as in, "more mature". Hannah Whilhall Smith comes to mind.

  5. Jamie, BTW, I used to LOVE 'Caring Enough to Confront" by the same author. Some of my friends would hide when they saw me coming :)...honesty is the best and only policy for me. And those who know me and my history understand why and accept this as a valid need....not a compulsion to expose.

  6. Richard,
    This is obviously a "sore" spot, not just because of my "past", but my present. Everyone needs to be "taken seriously". That means that others respect and listen to what you share with them. That also means that taking another lightly disregards another's need to be valued. And when there is competition "to get to the top", there is obviously little awareness of others, except for them "being in the way".

    Success is important to everyone, but how "success" is defined may differ from individual to individual. That is why our society values contracts that protect the interests of all parties involved in a certain endeavor. This "respect" cannot be dismissed off-handedly, by appealing to "character", so that those that have sought an advantage over another is "let off" without any consequence to their actions.

    So, whether we talk of character, the social contract, business contracts, or personal interaction, the rules are the same. There are no "special priviledges", as no one is above the law.

  7. "Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly." - G.K. Chesterton, who would have needed 2 seats on Southwest.

  8. I like to think I go further than ironic self-regard: I shoot for a world-view driven by a love of irony. I think that irony is the beating heart of the universe, and when I laugh at myself, I'm just living in tune :)

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