Want a Good Laugh? Know Thyself
The ability to recognize and appreciate one’s shortcomings is the sign of a true leader and an invaluable team player
By André van Heerden, Communications Director
A few nights ago, I was playing tennis on a wet court. If you moved slowly you were generally okay, but any quick starts or stops meant that you could slip and fall. We were playing doubles, and one player, a larger guy not known for his speed or mobility, joked about the conditions: “This doesn’t affect me at all! It’s the great equalizer.” The wet court meant everyone was equally limited in their movements. We had a good laugh.
Later, I thought about how relaxing a situation can be when someone recognizes a limitation about themselves and is comfortable with it. In my own life, my family and close friends often tease about how observant I am of my surroundings–or, more accurately, how remarkably unobservant. I eventually had to admit a deficiency in this area when I looked at pictures of my wedding, held when I was 26, and realized that I have a mole on my cheek. In another instance, it took eight months for me to observe that my wife had changed a framed piece of art by our bed.
Many years ago, I might have been upset by the jokes that accompany these gaffes. No one wants to miss what’s going on around them, especially since many jobs (and even relationships) depend on accurate perception. But it was liberating to acknowledge this shortcoming, and now I can laugh about it.
Young children can often provide a tough mirror in this respect. Not long ago, my youngest daughter pointed out my failing vision and thinning hair with complete candor and zero sense of social embarrassment. It wasn’t meant to be mean. She was just stating what she noticed. And once I admitted the truth to myself, the sting was lessened by a few degrees. Now when my kids ask if I need longer arms to read something, I find it funny.
Both pop culture and great minds throughout history agree that self-reflection and understanding is necessary to not only survive, but to also thrive. A Dilbert comic about Dogbert creating clones of himself (that then embezzled money from him) reminded me about the importance of self-awareness.
Author Daniel Chidiac has noted, “Being self-aware is not the absence of mistakes, but the ability to learn and correct them.”
Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”
And Benjamin Franklin, in his Poor Richard's Almanack, spoke on the great difficulty of personal reflection: "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self.”
Knowing one’s self can be difficult because we don’t often spend time assessing ourselves, are too defensive to admit certain shortcomings, or have blind spots about our abilities. Whatever the reason, it isn’t easy, or fun.
It strikes me that a strength of someone who knows who they are is the ability to not take themselves too seriously. Imagine if you could laugh about being short-tempered, messy, or disorganized. Imagine how much easier it would be if you were able to discuss these aspects of your personality with others, allowing them to help you grow and become better.
I’m sure we can all think of leaders who take themselves too seriously and overlook personal failings that are obvious to just about everyone else. These people are often the source of a great amount of frustration, miscommunication, and even mistrust.
Admitting weaknesses isn’t admitting defeat. It’s admitting that we’re human and that we’re aware we need help. And, much like the comedic stylings of a certain cartoon office drone and his dog, it can also give us and others a good laugh.