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The Admirable Art of Laughing at Oneself

Blessed are those who retain the innate ability to be able to laugh at themselves once in a while, or even often. A certain amount of calmness and peace-within is obviously needed for an individual to be able to take a dig at himself or herself, in this very demanding world of ours.


The entertaining lines of a popular nursery rhyme, that have stayed in the mind since childhood, go like this “Hey, diddle, diddle/ The cat and the fiddle/ The cow jumped over the moon/ The little dog laughed to see such fun/ And the dish ran away with the spoon!”


The little dog in question has emerged from my past to be of immense interest to me while I’m writing this piece. While the composite picture of that nursery rhyme has various versions, and parents of toddlers must know it well, the dog’s image, rollicking with uncontrolled mirth as he was, is particularly noteworthy. He represents most of us, when we roll over in gleeful laughter at the expense of someone else, or because someone else may actually be trying to make us laugh, like a baby with his antics.


Yet, only a rare human being would ever relish to that extent, a laugh at his own expense, but all dogs might. A child, enveloped in the most pristine sheen of innocence and an animal cub or pup, might thoroughly enjoy themselves even when others are undertaking a royal giggle at their expense.


I for one often find myself feeling slightly edgy when the joke is on me! One does try to take it sportingly, and over the years one has improved in many ways. But somewhere down under, the feeling of being able to pull everybody’s legs and not get one’s own pulled, remains present even if dormant. In fact it is a good test for me, once in a while, to analyse my own mindset in such a situation.


The British Psychological Society records in an online publication, that, to be capable of laughing at oneself is usually considered a mark of good character and the foundation of a robust sense of humour. Paradoxically, it goes on to add that those with the proclivity of laughing at themselves are not necessarily likely to be the laughing sorts in life as a whole.


Yet it is clearly a frothy sense of humour and a lighter outlook, despite the world and its shenanigans that sets such personalities apart. Not for them an ego-centred approach to everything and everyone. Those who can take a joke on themselves sportingly are remarkable people. Their minds are largely uncluttered by thoughts of perception, acceptance and one-upmanship.


I have been fortunate to have had the company of several close friends over the years whom I could tease with aplomb, and they would laugh more than I would. In my family, my maternal grandmother stood out. My grandfather was the wittiest gentleman around, who could pull a joke out of a hat at any moment, and nani was usually on the receiving end. All present would be unable to rein in their mirthful tendencies even slightly, in such situations, with my grandfather beaming at having produced yet another gem from his unique repertoire. But nani would never ever complain, and in fact would laugh the very loudest. Once she had understood the joke, that is!


My wife, Neena, is another champion of this league. I have had many an occasion to wax eloquent, with tongue in cheek, on her Himachali roots and the quaintness of customs that her family has followed for decades. But she has never ever been even remotely offended, though our conversations have often offered landing stations for my joke missiles. It is another matter that she was much more of a topper than I ever was, and had she started throwing back a few funny punches, my own roots would have been tested to the hilt.


Perhaps it is friendship and of course love, which permeate such relationships, and obviate the need to feel cut up when light hearted humour is in the air. The trick is to not go too far. As is the case with everything else in life too.

About Vivek Atray

Vivek Atray is an acclaimed orator and has spoken in India and abroad for the Indian Army, HORASIS, NASSCOM, CII, TIE, NCGG, LBSNAA, IIFT, ISB, Universities, Colleges and Schools.

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