Self-deprecating individuals admirable for intellectual wit

During a debate for a senatorial seat in 1858, Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas accused Abraham Lincoln of being two-faced.

Lincoln didn’t miss a beat.

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” he quipped.

Up on the stage, carefully rehearsed speeches won’t do the trick. Politicians have to be prepared to engage in a battle of wits with their opponents, and humor is their best weapon.

Humor is a highly esteemed personality trait. In one fell swoop, humor can make a person likable, spice up a dull moment or diffuse a potentially catastrophic situation.

But humor must be handled with tact. Many have disgraced themselves over a joke gone awry, especially in the trade of insults.

It is understandable to want to respond to an offense with another, but is it a wise move?

Sometimes the best way to turn the tables on your opponent is to stick the arrow in yourself first.

As Lincoln demonstrated, self-deprecation is an advantageous brand of humor. In situations where egos are pitted against on another and tension runs high, making fun of yourself is a good way to earn sympathy and smooth ruffled feathers.

Self-deprecation is an efficient defense mechanism. By pointing out your vulnerabilities, you’re essentially disarming your opponents by taking away their ammunition. If you acknowledge your weaknesses first, there is little left for your opponents to do but insult your mother.

Self-mockery is useful not only in confrontational settings but also when finding yourself in the middle of an embarrassing situation, which should be fairly often if you’re not a hermit. In the face of humiliation, you can either collapse on the floor and curl into a fetal position or make the best of it and take a jab at yourself. The latter has proven to deliver better results.

But even humor calls for moderation. Self-deprecation is funny in small doses. You don’t want to come off as insincerely modest or potentially suicidal.

A common misunderstanding is that self-deprecation is synonymous to low self-esteem. On the contrary, it takes confidence to openly invite derision. Self-deprecating individuals are aware of their real or perceived weaknesses and have the sense to exploit them.

There is something appealing about people who can laugh at themselves. They remind us that in the battlefield, egos are excess armor.

Julieta Chiquillo is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from San Salvador, El Salvador. Her column appears Tuesdays.