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What's This Nonsense About Being Able To Laugh At One's Self?

I am not a humorless man. I've laughed heartily at skits constructed around the most ridiculous scenarios, and I myself am known for the occasional well-placed quip. But while laughter certainly has a place in life, I categorically reject the notion that one ought to laugh at oneself, even if only once in a while.

Preposterous. Absolutely preposterous!

To be sure, all people possess flaws and make mistakes. Such incidents, however, are opportunities to assess one's behavior and take appropriate corrective measures, not to make jests at one's own folly. Truly, to what end? Am I to believe that laughing at my foibles or moments of inflated self-importance is somehow beneficial, that there is some purpose in turning myself into my own object of ridicule? After all, any man who would make sport of my misfortunes would receive a cudgeling he'd not soon forget. Why should I be more forgiving with myself?

Could there possibly be a less appropriate way to confront adversity than with laughter? It would be like greeting a tremendous stroke of luck by crawling into bed and weeping into a pillow! It simply amazes me, this idea that laughter ought to be manufactured out of thin air at the precise moment when sound reasoning and honest reflection are needed most. No, laughter is not some universal cure-all or equalizer. It is merely a license for stagnation, an excuse employed by weak-willed individuals who lack the devotion and composure necessary to overcome their own inferiority.

Consider: Last month, I had the unfortunate experience of conducting an entire day's business with a rather substantial marmalade stain on my trousers. If I were one to laugh at myself, I might shake my head, smile, and think, "At least it wasn't hot soup," or, "Well, it looks like I've got something to spread on tomorrow's toast." But these observations, however amusing, would have amounted to nothing but a failure to confront the issues at the heart of my embarrassing blunder.

And nothing, not a thing, would have been accomplished. I would have added my name to the rolls of the frivolous, a list that, sadly, always seems to have room for another signature.

Well, let me tell you what I did. Instead of addressing my mistake with a self-directed witticism, I immediately set about making changes to my morning schedule. I now take my breakfast in my dressing gown and only after I'm properly energized by a bath, a cup of coffee, or both. Since undertaking these precautions, my pants have been stain-free. I identified a problem, conceived a multipronged solution, and put it into practice—all without laughing at myself as if I were some painted circus buffoon. And to those of you who say I will look back upon my marmalade predicament years from now and laugh, I say I will not. I will only look back on it with great seriousness as a vital moment wherein I chose self-improvement over humiliation. Progression over regression. Development over debasement.

What could possibly build more character?

Of course, this is but one small example. Over the course of my lifetime, I have remedied numerous lapses in judgment with this same diligence. But by all means, show me a man who has truly advanced himself with giggles or who has made himself stronger with a strict regimen of guffawing. Show me the man who overcomes his setbacks without clear thinking and conscientious effort, who chuckles his way to prosperity. Really, I should love to make his acquaintance.

Then, and only then, will I laugh at myself. I will laugh a great deal indeed!

More from this section

Deep Blue Quietly Celebrates 10th Anniversary With Garry Kasparov’s Ex-Wife

PITTSBURGH—Red wine and candlelight on the table before them, Deep Blue, the supercomputer that defeated reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, and Kasparov’s ex-wife, Yulia Vovk, quietly celebrated their 10th anniversary on Wednesday at a small French restaurant near Carnegie Mellon University, where Deep Blue was created.

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