“Those who can’t laugh at themselves leave the job to others.”

By Anna Marie Clerkin. Anna Marie is a freelance English teacher in Italian primary and secondary schools as well as in companies where she teaches Business English. She lives in Ceriano Laghetto, Italy

Unusual things tend to happen to me. Laughing them off and sharing the experience with others with the aim of making them laugh is typical behavior on my part. Just smiling boosts your mood so laughing surely has double this power. In this article I will present two real life examples which indicate my agreement with the statement “Those who can’t laugh at themselves leave the job to others.”

A few years ago my husband and I checked into a hotel at around 11pm. The receptionist gave us our keys and explained how to reach our room. From outside we thought we could hear voices inside the room and imagined that the television had been left on by mistake. On entering the room we were greeted with a sorry sight. A semi-clothed couple was sprawled on the bed with the television on full blast. Both of them were deep in sleep, even snoring and hadn’t heard us open the door. “We have to wake them up and tell them they’re in the wrong room” I whispered to my husband, Denny. “We can’t do that” Denny murmured, “It’s nearly midnight, they’re fast asleep, it’ll be easier to get the receptionist to give us another room.” No way was I following Denny’s suggestion. These room stealers were denying me the opportunity to flop in to bed after an exhausting day of travelling and had to be shown the error of their ways. I started nudging the female, safer bet I told myself as she probably wouldn’t have a violent reaction to being woken up. I was too scared to raise my voice, afraid of waking the bulky guy, so continued to murmur “Wake up, wake up, you’re in my room” while increasing the intensity of my poking. By this stage Denny had left the room, saying he was going back to reception. Coward! Leaving me alone to sort out this mess. However after further failed prodding I threw in the towel and headed back down to the reception.

Denny was talking to the receptionist but with little success. Denny is Italian and speaks very little English. This hotel was in Limerick, Ireland and despite having ears attuned to my parents’ Irish accents, I was struggling with this guy. When I got to the part about poking the woman to wake her up he burst out laughing, picked up the phone and cackled “Pat, you’ve got to come here immediately.” Pat turned up with three other guys, soon learned they were all night shift staff and Brendan, the receptionist, got me to tell the tale from the beginning. By this time I had seen the comic side to the situation, in particular my absurd reaction, and was enjoying myself in making my listeners chortle.

Laughing at yourself means you don’t take yourself too seriously. Telling this story to friends and family nearly ten years after the event itself still has them in stitches. Sharing the experience has me laughing at myself and inviting others to laugh at me and with me.

An ex boss of mine totally lacked the ability to laugh at himself. He was extremely arrogant and pompous. He would strut up and down our departmental corridor greeting only managers and ignoring the rest of the team. He attempted to suck in his bulging belly but it would invariably jut over his too tight trousers and make him look ridiculous. Such failed preening earned him the departmental nickname “Peacock.” Obviously deeply ironic.

Peacock was immensely boring. He favoured monologues so agendas were ignored in meetings while he waffled on and on and on. His direct report managers were ingratiating to his face but ripped him to pieces behind his back. They ridiculed his haughtiness and joked at how they’d have to drink at least three coffees before a meeting with him to stay awake.

Peacock was always right. His opinions were gospel and if anyone dared to present a different stance they were belittled in front of everyone. He was a bully. This led to no one ever voicing contrasting opinions and ensured that a tense atmosphere permeated the department.

One day Peacock announced that in a month’s time there would be a departmental dinner to celebrate the good sales figures just released. Everyone was invited and the office staff with the sales force totaled ninety people. Peacock suggested live music and approached my colleague Marco asking him to organize something. Marco played the keyboards and for the past few months he and I had been rehearsing together for fun. I was the singer and we had about ten songs ranging from the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and George Michael. Peacock declared that he would be playing and singing with us but that he didn’t have time to come to any of the rehearsals.

Show time. I was enjoying a lively dinner at a table made up of office colleagues and Sales Managers. We had managed to steer clear of Peacock’s table where everyone looked glum and bored. Every now and then a fake, shriek laugh came from there, undoubtedly in response to one of Peacock’s monologues as we all knew no one willingly sat at that table. The Sales Managers were tipsy and at a certain point started calling out Marco’s name and mine and urged us to take to the stage. I was waiting for Marco’s lead when suddenly Peacock made his way to the stage with his guitar and began singing. Singing implies musicality so a better word would be howling. Our initial reaction was silent horror which was then replaced by sniggering but Peacock didn’t get it. He continued with his vocal sacrifices and must have interpreted the whistling to be signs of appreciation for his efforts. His arrogance had completely blinded him to reality.

After half an hour Peacock invited Marco and I to join him on stage and instructed us to follow his lead, he was strumming on his guitar and expected us to improvise. How can you improvise to a cat being strangled? His guitar playing was good so Marco was able to join in but I just stood there like a spare part. Fortunately my ever more inebriated table companions had shed all inhibitions and yelled out my name and practically demanded that I started singing. From somewhere Marco plucked up the courage to start playing the introduction to “Ticket to Ride” and I launched into song. We managed to sing all of our set and it went brilliantly. I returned to my riotous table, feeling like a star as they all stood up and clapped as I approached them. Fantastic.

The next day in the office everyone was complimenting Marco and I on our set. Marco was likened to “Elton John” while I was given the nickname “the voice.” We were both delighted with the praise and happy that our rehearsals had paid off. My desk was right in front of Peacock’s (open) office door which meant that he overheard most of the compliments. Occasionally he’d come out and take over the banter. He’d say how happy he was that he still managed to play the guitar so well despite having no time to practice and how his voice stood him in such good stead despite not singing for years. Awkward silence. Not even the most ingratiating people could praise his singing. They’d say a few words on his guitar playing and then dash off. During the day I’d run into giggling groups, at the coffee machine and in the bathroom, ridiculing Peacock and his superciliousness. If he had only admitted that he couldn’t sing but was a good guitar player he wouldn’t have been the butt of so many jokes for the next three days.

To conclude: laughing at yourself is like a medicine. It releases tension and makes you feel relaxed. Inviting others to laugh with you and at you is therapeutic too as group laughter releases lots of positive energy and creates bonds. Failing to laugh at yourself, usually because you are arrogant, isolates you. You become the butt of jokes, people laugh at you, to your face if they are bullies or behind your back if you are the bully as in Peacock’s case.

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