Deflect Criticism with Self-deprecating Humor


“Yes, I do own a comb. Why do you ask?”

“Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?” – Abraham Lincoln 

Can you remember the last time someone made fun of you because of some physical characteristic that you had? None of us are immune. Aren’t we all too tall, too short, too fat, foo skinny, too young, or too old?

This type of comment seems funny to the critic, but it can sting the recipient.

How should we respond to this type of criticism?

Step 1) Look deep inside yourself and acknowledge the fact that, yes, you do have quasimodo_03certain physical characteristics that make you distinct. (Maybe not as distinct as Quasimodo, but still distinct.)

Step 2) Use self-deprecating humor to deflect criticism.

There is great power in looking inside of ourselves, acknowledging who we really are, and in making fun of ourselves.

Abe Lincoln Example

Abraham Lincoln had a target on his back because he had two unique traits.

1) He was extremely tall and really thin. He stood six foot four inches tall and weighed only 170 pounds.

2) His face was so homely that it frightened small children and horses.homely face

Yet, despite being called “string bean,” “scarecrow” and “gorilla,” Lincoln was bullet proof from this type of criticism because he was better and funnier at criticizing himself than were his enemies.

Lincoln was invited to speak to a conference of newspaper editors in Chicago, some of whom were his fiercest critics. To break the ice he told this story:

One day I was riding along a mountain trail on my horse.

From the other direction came a woman on her horse. She stopped her horse and looked at me.

“I do believe you are the ugliest man I have ever seen,” she said.

‘That may be true, madam, but there’s not much I can do about it,” I replied.

“No, perhaps not, but you might at least stay home.”

The audience of editors laughed with Lincoln instead of at him. Lincoln’s goal was not just to respond to criticism, but to allow people to see his plight and bring them into his circle of friends.

Who, Me? Too Skinny?

Just last week, two so-called “friends” of mine made fun of me for being too skinny.

“Terry you looked like a broom wearing glasses,” said one person.

“Terry it’s so windy today, I’d better tie a sting to you before you fly away,” said the second one.

Okay I get it, I’m skinny. I laughed but I felt a little tinge of pain in my heart.

steve rrevesAs a child I always wanted to be strong and powerful like Hercules. I wished I could throw huge boulders at armies of men and single handedly defeat lions and bears. But, fate insisted that I have a DNA more like Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife. There is nothing I can do about that.

I thought about how Lincoln would have used this situation to convert enemies into friends, and I replied,

“In my defense, my doctor told me that I weigh the exact right amount for someone this awesome.”

My frenemies laughed with me instead of against me. Like Lincoln, I felt I had drawn them a little closer to my circle of friends.

A Deeper Perspective

How do we look at this from a deeper, philosophical view?

We could say, “Their dogma was to criticize me, but my karma allowed me to respond with humor.”

Metaphysically speaking, “my karma ran over their dogma.”

Upcoming Presentations/Events: 

June 10th, 2016. Pascua Yaqui Youth Career Academy Job Fair. Tucson, AZ.

November, 2016. “Utilizing Stories to Touch Hearts, Minds and Funny Bones.” Downtown Lions Club, Tucson, AZ.

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