July 25, 2012


In high school I was not known for stellar handwriting. In fact, before the days of personal computers or even typewritten papers, our teachers were subjected to the daunting task of making sense of what we students wrote on paper. I happened to be at the top of the list of aspiring atrocious writers. Occasional complaints often resulted in great improvements, only to have my writing slide into the abyss of my ever comfortable scrawl.

Such was the case one evening when, after I had slugged away at several literature and history essays, the final paper to be written was an essay in French. With sapped energy and depleted motivation, I was definitely not in fine form, and, as it turned out, neither was my handwriting.

After I turned in my paper the next day, my French instructor thought to make an example of me. She held up my paper to the class and declared that it looked as if “cockroaches had fallen in ink and scrawled through the pages.”

In a flash I recognized her intent to humiliate me, but instead of dissolving into tears, I looked for the humor in the situation and began to laugh—at myself. This was not a laugh of defiance. On the contrary, what got to me most was the teacher’s visual imagery.

2012 1521 page31Taking one look at the paper from where I sat, I agreed with her. My teacher was spot-on! To her chagrin, however, the entire class began laughing with me. She expressed dismay at the “nerve” I had to laugh at the situation. But later on I was able to negotiate a redo of the paper.

What really happened that day? While other classmates may have dissolved into tears, I chose not to take myself too seriously. So I decided to laugh, and, in so doing, avoided ultimate embarrassment while still easing the tension in the classroom.

It seems that the ability to laugh at oneself is a dying art form. In this fast-paced world, many of us go about our daily routines taking ourselves too seriously. This often results in our being tense, uptight, anxious, and cranky. Sometimes we get so worked up we can’t even see the funny side of losing—and there is a funny side.

We have probably all met individuals who think their opinions to be the only ones that matter. They may think themselves infallible, with egos so puffed up that it puts hot-air balloons to shame. Yet how much better would it be for us to remember that we are human beings, imperfect in God’s sight. We are accident-prone, subject to failure, missteps, and mistakes; and more often than we care to admit, we are totally unable to control the responses of others.

We have heard the saying “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone.” But how do we interpret those words? Are we glad when “the world” laughs with us?

Learning to laugh at oneself erases a lot of the stress that we carry. It clears the lungs, and gives us new insight into what otherwise may have been a monumental problem. Laughter is inclusive, automatically drawing others to us. And most of all, it feels good.

We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine, and yet how often do we begrudge ourselves the opportunity even to crack a smile? For those of us who are self-conscious and believe that it’s not in our nomenclature to laugh out loud at ourselves, even a small smile can make a big difference.

So the next time you find yourself in a potentially difficult or embarrassing situation, smile or laugh out loud, and let the folks around you wonder what you’re up to. You’ll discover that “a merry heart” really does “good, like medicine.”* 

* Prov. 17:22, NKJV. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Marvene Thorpe-Baptiste is editorial assistant for the Adventist Review. This article was published July 26, 2012.