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Mastering the Therapeutic Art of Laughing At Yourself

A 12-Step Program for Exceptionalists Anonymous

I’ve always liked people laughing with me more than at me

Still, over the years I’ve also acquired a taste for people laughing with me at me.

Not always, but I’m getting better at it. Deliberately. For my health. If laughter is the best medicine, laughter at myself is a wonder drug. Self-effacing laughter is the best laxative for loosening a stuck up sense of self, keeping oneself regular, not an exception.

There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness these days. Here I’m aspiring to Don’t-Mindfulness, a body so fortified by self-effacing humor that it doesn’t mind exposure as an unexceptional muddling pompous buffoon.

More and more, I work to know that follies of humankind by introspection.

Reverse engineering from my experience, here’s a loose sequence for cultivating the art of self-effacing humor, 12 steps to overcoming the prickly pride of exceptionalism, the natural-born belief that one is inherently above the rest, exceptionally wise, thoughtful, kind or deserving by any standard, really, getting over the whole question of whether I’m exceptional, either better or worse than others.

Oddly, the steps as I see them start with cattiness, a lusty appetite to laugh at others. Indeed I wonder whether people too pure of heart to laugh at others can get very far through the steps. Here goes.

  1. Laugh At Others: Feed your exceptionalism by laughing at the folly you see in others. Consider yourself exceptionally sharp for being able to spot it, further evidence of your exceptional astuteness.
  2. Generalize About Their Stupidity: Discover the formulas that produce stupid behavior. Consider yourself exceptionally wise for figuring out these formulas.
  3. Laugh With Others At Others: Find others who generalize as you do. Savor your collective exceptionalism, that age-old tribal satisfaction of laughing around the campfire at non-tribe members.
  4. Laugh at Other’s Double Standards: Notice that the biggest general formula for stupidity is hypocrisy, other people thinking they’re special or deserving. Laugh with your tribe at other people’s double standards. “The nerve of some folk!”
  5. Notice Your Own Double Standards: “The nerve of your folk.” Within your own exceptional tribe suddenly you notice double standards, or worse have your double standards pointed out by them. See your own double standards for the first time. You’re not exempt. You and your kind have double standards too. Now what?
  6. Laugh Nervously At Your Own Double Standards: Now what? Restore your exceptionalism by being the first to admit to having double standards. Laugh at your own double standards, but if anyone laughs with you at you at your double standards, then it’s not funny.
  7. Laugh Dismissively About Everyone’s Double Standards: So what if you’ve got double standards? Everyone does and there’s no escaping them. Stay exceptional by laughing at anyone idealistic enough to think double standards are a problem. Don’t take life so seriously. It’s just a game, everyone just trying to impose their double standards on everyone else. Life is all just a joke.
  8. Get badly sobered by a double standard: Lose someone or something important because of your double standards or theirs. Discover that you can’t just laugh them off. So try staying exceptional by renouncing your double standards.
  9. Laugh With Them At Your Now-Eradicated Double Standards: Yes, you had double standards but not any more. Now you can laugh with others at yourself and your former double standards. And feel exceptional for having eradicated them.
  10. Discover That You haven’t Eradicated Your Double Standards: For all your commitment to eradicating your hypocritical double standard, you’ve failed. You still find evidence of your double standards. Feel exceptional but in a bad way, exceptionally hypocritical, no laughing matter.
  11. Join Humanity: Surrender your exceptionalism. You’re no worse than those you laugh at, nor better. You’re one of them, a member of the human race, part striving to prove exceptional, part trying to get over yourself. Begin to laugh with us at us, not nervously, not dismissively but acceptingly of the tension we all live with all our days, the striving to be, and at the same time overcome our need to be exceptional.
  12. Laugh With Them At Yourself: No longer hell bent on being an exception, but half-bent toward it and toward accepting that you’ve got versions of all the traits you’ve laugh at in others, you’re finally free to laugh while striving, enjoying the ride, the life of human who wants the free ride you thought was granted to the exceptional, but is granted to none of us.
More from Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D., MPP
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More from Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D., MPP
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