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Humor and Humility

I’m still not sure if these words have the same etymology or if the first syllable is a coincidence, but the link is quite profound. A healthy sense of humor lives in humility, while a diseased one is grounded in ego. Humor is rooted in the bringing down of the exalted, the humiliation of the proud. It finds its higher fulfillment in the surprising and delightful exaltation of the humble.

Perhaps we find an indication of the warpedness of our age when we note that people don’t seem to find the exaltation of the humble very delightful, but they do delight in the humiliation of the proud. I’m speculating on the basis of logic there, not noting anything historical. If anybody knows enough about, say, 17th century humor to evaluate that statement, I’d be very interested in what you can find. Furthermore, I do recognize that we like the Horatio Alger stories, though we seem to be losing our pleasure in them to an extent. We think of them as sentimental (think Rocky) and that leads us to cynicism just when we are most in need of heroes.

But back to the point, humor delights in humility and justice. That is one reason we’re focusing on it as a conference theme. Humor restores our confidence that things do work out well and that there is justice after all. It encourages us to hope, no matter how dark things look. It helps us to adjust and adapt in this fallen world. It links us to a standard of justice that helps us to keep our perspective. That’s why comics can sometimes get so angry when they deal with political themes – and that’s when they stop being funny.

Any experienced teacher knows how important that sense of humor is when she looks at some of the children she has taught – not to mention when she remembers some of the things she has done or believed as a teacher. If we lose our sense of humor over ourselves, we are finished.

How can you see humor mattering in the classroom or in the teacher’s inner world? How does a teacher maintain a healthy sense of humor, avoiding cynicism when she sees that students don’t become superstars under their tutelage as a matter of course? How does a teacher develop a sense of humor in the first place? What sorts of things are funny about a teacher’s life?

These are some of the things we’ll be reflecting on and discussing at the 2008 conference in Houston. Click here and Be there! (And, for a special surprise, click on the picture of the monk!).

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