HumilityClifford C. Kuhn, M.D.
Keeping a long-term perspective is a healthy habit, but it produces a by-product that doesn''t always feel so good - humility.
Humility is tricky. Some of us pride ourselves on being humble. What a contradiction. If we think we''re humble, we''re probably not. True humility occurs in the absence of our awareness of it. Like humor, we can''t force it. It must flow naturally.
Humility can be produced by any experience that reminds us of our diminutive place in the grand scheme of the universe. For many, golf serves this purpose. It''s hard for me to understand why anyone would willingly and repeatedly submit to such humiliation, but that''s me. As a rule, I find it difficult to volunteer for pain and frustration, which is why I cannot manufacture my own humility.
Whenever I am forcefully reminded of my relative insignificance in the big picture of things, the first thing I want to do is shoot the messenger. Of course, that''s harder to do if I love the messenger, which I suppose explains why family members can often teach humility to one another and live to tell about it.
Over the years, performing comedy has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Before comedy, I basked in the status and respect I was receiving as a doctor and university professor. I can''t tell you how easy it is to be arrogant, when people continually come to you with problems and go away feeling better. So, I did the easy thing. I became enamored of my own brilliance.
Then, for reasons I still can''t fully comprehend, I thought it would be a good idea to become a standup comedian. Although a few people might suggest that psychiatry and standup comedy are essentially the same thing (actually, there''s a big difference - psychiatrists work sitting down), I believe most would acknowledge that I was making a rather dramatic leap.
So, I took off my white coat and left the hallowed halls of academia to enter the world of comedy clubs and one night stands. Suddenly I had no status and very little talent to help me. In this new world I was at the bottom of the pecking order. It was a humbling and, at times, humiliating experience. To this day there are comedy clubs I cannot visit without breaking into a cold sweat.
Did I learn humility? I suppose I learned a little. You might have trouble noticing the difference if you didn''t know how extraordinarily arrogant I was before.
Charlie Chaplin once wrote, "Life is a tragedy in close-up; but a comedy in long shot." To me, that means, if we can keep our perspective, we not only have a shot at humility, but we will also have more fun and enjoy better health.
I continue to perform comedy because it provides me with that long-term perspective Chaplin was writing about. I''m making progress on the humility, but in my case there''s quite a long way to go. Occasionally my family shows up at my performance, just to make sure I don''t get ahead of myself.
Do you have any ritual or activity in your life that serves the purpose of keeping you humble? Maybe you''re lucky enough to have members of your family to do the job on a regular basis. Or, maybe you''re a golfer.
If you can''t identify anything, I urge you to consider introducing a new element to your life in which you have no experience, status or expertise. It might initially be humiliating, but I guarantee it will help you get a fresher and healthier look at the big picture.
Dr. Clifford Kuhn is both a psychiatrist and a comedian. He is professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. His book, The Fun Factor: Unleashing the Power of Humor at Home and on the Job , is available in bookstores and on his website. A professional member of the National Speakers Association, he offers entertaining workshops and presentations on humor skills and is available to anyone interested in enhancing performance, productivity and health by creating an atmosphere of fun. Results are guaranteed . Dr. Kuhn may be reached by phone (502-722-8732), e-mail (email@example.com) or by visiting his website (www.humorbeing.com).
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