My daughter asked me which three movies I’d take with me to a desert island. Without overthinking, I replied, “Airplane, Princess Bride and Die Hard.” What all these movies have in common—in addition to revealing my age—is that they are comedic. Yet, if you scour through my writings on this website and read my books, you might conclude that I have no sense of humor. Sadly, in the spiritual world, I am not alone.
Why is Humor Absent from My Writings?
Two things have reliably healed my heart when I’ve gone through troubled times; music and humor. Some might even say that good-natured humor is a coping mechanism I developed to overcome hard times. When I coach and teach, this humorous side of me shines through. Yet, somehow, it is absent when I write. I’ve asked “why” many times. Maybe I don’t know how to write with humor. That could be it. The likelier reason is that it’s just not something that most spiritual authors do, and I have adopted their style.
A Symptom of a Larger Problem?
While researching for my book, Co-Human Harmony, I was struck by Arthur Deikman’s idea that cults usually lack a sense of humor. He wrote that their inability to laugh at themselves was central to most cultish belief systems, especially the principle of infallibility. This makes total sense to me. Whenever I encounter a lack of humor, I find tenets of absolutism in the philosophy or dogma, as in, “this is the only way.”
Humor Equals Humility
Based on my encounters with spiritual teachers, I’ve found that those who can make fun of themselves usually have humility. Humility is when people make good-natured fun of themselves. Humiliation is when they make nasty jokes about other people.
Thankfully, I do write with humility. That may be the next best thing to humor. After all, comedy is born from our fallible nature.
Funny Spiritual Lectures
There are funny spiritual teachers out there. I’ve been to many spiritual lectures that have been laugh-out-loud funny. When teachers can successfully bring humor into their teachings, I feel like the material stays with me longer than when they are preachy and somber. Their sense of humility also gives me hope. They are not perfect, which means that I don’t have to be perfect either to make spiritual progress.
And when I have been able to bring humor into my teachings, I have NOT done it by quoting my favorite movies—I have to be careful because my humor can be pretty edgy; I am a Gen-X’r after all—but rather by keeping things light, exploring unexpected perspectives, and, most importantly, making fun of myself.
Is There Humor in Your Teachings?
Let me turn the light on you now that I’ve shone a light on myself. How does humor fit into your spiritual teachings? Are you able to laugh at yourself? Is there a sense of humility in your community? Not all teachers have to be laugh-out-loud funny to be humorous. Gentle smiling and under-the-breath-chuckling can have the same effects. Just remember Deikman’s finding that the less humor, the more cultish communities become.
Will Future Columns Be Funny?
Now, just to be clear on the expectation front, I don’t think I can turn around and become a funny writer. Don’t expect that from future articles. What this contemplation has done more than anything else is remind me of the link between humility and humor. The more serious I become, the more certain I am. And I much prefer the religion of mystery to the religion of certainty.
Author, Coach, and Mindfulness Teacher
Recommended books by GB:
- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)
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