Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Humility & Humor

People who take themselves too seriously should not be trusted. Besides, they're not very fun to be around.

Far from being evidence of hubris, mocking one's self and whatever "movement" one might be associated with is quite healthy.

I will never forget William Kirk Kilpatrick's discussion of this in his seemingly forgotten masterpiece Psychological Seduction: The Failure of Modern Psychology (Thomas Nelson, 1983). In chapter 5 "The Burden of Self" he writes this:
I began this chapter with a discussion of characteristic mentality and suggested that a psychological society creates a climate of unrelenting seriousness. If approached from another direction, the question of characteristic mentality becomes the question of what characters are missing from the story.

I cannot prove statistically what I am about to say; you will have to check it against your own observations. However, my observation is that in the modern theater of life, not on is the set—tradition, ritual, family—discarded but the cast of characters has been narrowed down alarmingly. The present atmosphere does not allow much room for spirited eccentricity, for that larger-than-life character represented in literature by Sir John Falstaff or Samuel Pickwick and in reality by a man like Samuel Johnson—men, in short, who live their lives with outrageous exuberance.

When we think of these characters, we think fondly; they are like overgrown children. It never occurs to them that growing older means growing more serious about oneself. Johnson, even in his later years, delighted in rolling downhill. Pickwick and Falstaff, likewise, spent their days tumbling from one merry episode to the next. What all three have in common is the capacity to give pleasure by their company and conversation. The reason is their levity. Beneath the service vanities, they take themselves lightly. Giving pleasure of the kind they give depends on a basic humility, a recognition that they are but men among men, not special selves on the high road to fulfillment.

It is hard for lightheartedness to hold the stage, though, once we learn how very seriously we ought to take ourselves. And this is what psychology has taught us.

One casualty of our over-seriousness may be our sense of humor. And that is because all humor involves a loss of dignity. The man who makes a face to amuse a baby gives up his dignity; so does the man who roars with laughter. The essential condition for having fun is to forget your dignity, that is, to forget yourself.

Exit humor, exit sanity.


Garrett said...

Nice one Jeff. I agree. We should stop projecting ourselves into Banner of Truth re-publications of Puritan works and going out of our way to have a bad time. I mean they had a reason to be grumpy ALL the time: bad humors, plagues, civil wars, food gone bad, papists burning folk in the next village, bad haircuts, and no good microbrew. I find that the more "serious" a Christian man takes himself (and the more serious they are the more they're bound to tell you so) the more they resemble cartoons of human beings rather than human beings themselves.

So, if you see a strange, sad little fellow in the corner of the fellowship hall with his face buried in a dog-eared copy of Watson and he begins his conversation with an inflectionless "in sundry times and divers places"...stand clear.

nickg said...

Good stuff, Jeff.

One of my most important indicators of whether I've had a successful day or not is whether or not I've made my wife laugh.