Let me have too deep a sense of humor ever to be proud.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.
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.
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.