Why Take Yourself So Seriously?

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this that we currently live in an ‘outrage culture’ (also known as a ‘call-out culture’). According to that bastion of cultural wisdom, Urban Dictionary, outrage culture is:

“When people play the victim card and bend over backwards to be as offended as possible when they really aren’t. Using hissy fits, political correctness, character assassinations, and a false sense of moral authority, the outrager hopes to gain power and public recognition for their brave act of justice as well as a sense of control over their meaningless existence. Often accompanied by demands for financial compensation for their “pain and suffering””[1]

People are, for lack of a better word, very ‘triggery’. We all have our hobbyhorses and sacred calves which we love to rage over but at the end of the day it’s usually our egos that are seated on the throne. We spend countless hours shaping our public image and cultivating the right temple for our god, the self. And in this climate insults and slights are tantamount to blasphemy.

Today the tactic of taking offense can be used like Mjölnir; you can spin up your outrage and ride it to greater heights on social media and in public opinion or you can use it to call down lightning, vengeance, and outrage in order to smote your enemies.

Captain America Marvel GIF by Nerdist.com

But while conventional wisdom compels us to wield our outrage hammer at every juncture, true wisdom exhorts us to let it lie.

A key difference between Thor’s Mjölnir, and the outrage hammer is that you don’t have to be worthy to wield the latter. Anyone can play the outrage game. Similarly, anyone can have a slip of the tongue and find themselves on the receiving end of a hammer to the face. Is this really the game we want to play?

dc universe hammer GIF

True wisdom reminds its hearers that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Take Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 for example:

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

True wisdom tells us not to take ourselves so seriously. Have you never talked smack on someone? Have you always meant every word you’ve said in a moment of anger or jealousy? Of course the answer is no, so don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t overlook an offense.

As Proverbs 19:11 says:

“Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Not only is a cool temper in keeping with good sense, but it’s actually a glorious thing to overlook an offense!

But while glory results from the decision to forego your indignation, distain and greater offenses closely follow the opposite decision. Jordan Peterson expounds on this phenomenon in his now famous story about ‘Lunchbucket’. Peterson recounts his time working on a railway line crew in central Saskatchewan as a young man. The crew acted as typical blue collar laborers act- blue collar sense of humor and all. This included the typical teasing and name calling. Peterson says,

“Working men are often extremely funny, in a caustic, biting, insulting manner… they are always harassing each other, partly for amusement, partly to score points in the eternal dominance battle between them, but also partly to see what the other guy will do if he is subjected to social stress. It’s part of the process of character evaluation, as well as camaraderie.”[2]

He goes on to explain that when the teasing goes well it builds trust- the other workers know you can take it and handle stress. It provides some much needed levity in some of the most grueling jobs out there. But, Peterson continues, when it goes wrong, when someone can’t take a joke, things spiral. Enter Lunchbucket. Lunchbucket was a new guy on the crew who carried a fancy lunch bucket while the rest of the crew were brown-paper-baggin’-it. So, naturally, the guys started calling him ‘Lunchbucket’ to mess with him. No big deal, but it worked. “He was not fun to be around, and he couldn’t take a joke. That’s Fatal, on a work crew.”[3] Lunchbucket could have just acknowledged the fact that he looked stupid with his pale, laughed it off and that would have been the end of that. But since he took himself too seriously to entertain a little deprecation, he incurred greater amounts and shortly thereafter he quit.

Peterson argues that there is more to this story that mere bullying. He says, “the harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.”[4]

Now, I’m not an apologist for bullying or harassment, lest you’re already getting triggered. All I’m saying (via Jordan Peterson quotes) is that it’s massively beneficial if you can laugh at yourself and it can be detrimental if you can’t or won’t. But laughing at yourself is a hard thing to do when you have an inflated view of yourself. So get over yourself, for your sake and mine.

[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Outrage%20Culture

[2] Peterson, 12 Rules For Life, 327.

[3] Peterson, 12 Rules For Life, 328.

[4] Ibid.

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