I was watching the film, The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington over the weekend. In the film, debate coach Denzel Washington tells one of his students who had made a joke at his own expense, "You wouldn't punch yourself in a street fight so don't punch yourself in a word fight. Use humor against your opponent, not yourself."
The quote resonated with me. I have always used humor as a defense mechanism with the rationale that if I could get someone to laugh with me, they wouldn't be laughing at me. And if I could point out all of my faults before someone else could, I somehow would be ahead of the game. The problem is, no matter how many faults you point out to someone, they can always find more. And what really is the point in trashing yourself to beat someone to the punch?
Though I'm not into singing my own praises. I may be able to control insulting myself, but I can't imagine ever feeling comfortable praising myself, either. I know how I react to people who perform a contortionist act as they pat themselves on the back. So where is the happy medium?
And can I really break a pattern I've had since I was a kid? I think I learned how to be self-depreciating from my mother. She was always apologizing for the house not being clean enough, us not having enough money, our car not being as nice as other people's and for us not being of the "right" class of people. I honed in on it as a child, wondering why I never felt quite good enough.
My mother is still that way. A good percentage of any conversation I have with her is filled up with her apologizing for repeating herself, not having any interesting to say or for just being her. I kick myself (see) for not comforting her and reassuring her that she is just fine the way she is. But it has become so part of our interaction that I just sit there on the phone zoning out her chipping away at herself.
In the cockiness of my youth, I blustered about, feigning self-confidence that was often interpreted as arrogance or conceit. But so often, I felt like I was a little boy play acting at the situations I found myself in. I heard my mother repeating "you don't belong in nice restaurants...you shouldn't be in this store...you don't belong in college...our family doesn't become managers."
Not that she ever said things like that, but it is what I heard.
Now that I am middle aged, I have lost the that youthful facade that helped cushion the blows I inflicted on myself. I find myself questioning everything about me. And whereas in youth I figured time would eventually smooth out my faults and leave a polished person, I have discovered instead that time simply erodes self-delusion to a point that you must face the cold mirror and watch the future descending from the shadows behind you.