Self Deprecating Humor

I recently had a private conversation with someone in which I made some self-deprecating jokes. They were incredibly kind in response, but my impression is this person sees me as having a negative self-image and/or poor self-esteem. This is a misperception.

The reality is that part of why I engage in self-deprecating humor is because I have high self-esteem, and I intimidate a lot of people. It is basically a lame attempt to try to put people at ease.

It tends to not work all that well. In fact, I decided quite a while back that I should stop doing so. I have managed to cut back on it in public comments on forums, but I don't talk with people privately all that much these days, so I haven't had as much opportunity to practice establishing some new habit for private conversations.

In fact, my lack of friends means this habit is becoming entrenched in private remarks because most of my private conversations are with my sons. They laugh at my self-deprecating jokes because they understand the context and don't mistake it for being an expression of poor self-esteem. So, I have no real reason to stop making such jokes around my kids.

But it doesn't translate well to other private conversations with people who know me less well. Oops!

Prior to this private discussion, I read most of the way through a multi-part thing called The Gervais Principle. In one section, it talks about humor and how it can be used to build social capital.

Most forms of humor attempt to raise or lower status of individuals... There is always a jokester, a victim (which can be the same person by design or accident) and crucially, an audience.
So, this combination of events ultimately led to an epiphany of sorts: One of the reasons for my tendency to crack jokes aimed at me is because if people are going to interpret it as a form of attack, then I am only perceived as attacking myself. It's really challenging to try to crack jokes that other people don't perceive as ugly in some fashion.

In some sense, this isn't really news to me. It is something I knew about myself long ago, but I sort of forgot that this was part of why I talk about me as much as I do. I have gotten attacked a lot in recent years and lost sight of some of my reasons for doing things.

My preference is for humor that has no victim, but apparently a great many people see humor as an inherently ugly thing that must have a victim. It can have a victim, but it can also be sympathetic commentary on the human condition.

Earlier this year, I was having a particularly difficult week and getting my shoes on became this ridiculous challenge. I commented on that fact to my sons and my oldest son quipped "Shoes! How the fuck do they work?"

I cracked up and spent the next week giggling about it whenever I thought of it. It was sympathetic and from a first-person point of view. It was also supportive and it made light of things in a very kind way.

My son knows I am dealing with very serious personal challenges, like getting myself well when doctors say it cannot be done. Put in that perspective, yes, it is amusing that the biggest problem I have today is that I can't figure out how to get my shoes on without minor drama.

I have deleted multiple self-deprecating jokes from this draft. I have mixed feelings about that. I like being funny and I don't like hurting other people. It seems that I rarely get to be funny anymore and I feel like my life is the poorer for it.

To be fair, I am still trying to work out how to be funny online and have it properly understood. I mostly reserve that effort for other blogs. It is a work in progress, but this blog is one where I attempt to be a little more serious. So, perhaps this is just not the place for such jokes.


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