‘Keep that wine flowing – when you’re drunk, I’m funny,’ crowed the compère at a recent comedy night, and the crowd roared with laughter. That wasn’t the only point in the evening that his self belittling quips drew snorts and guffaws – in fact each reference to his beer gut, hair loss and general inadequacy with women seemed to elicit even louder applause. Our shiny-headed host was using the time-old art of self deprecation to bring the funny and connect with us through something we can all identify with – putting ourselves down.
Everyone has an inner critic – and if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety I’ll bet you’re particularly vulnerable to self flagellation. I should know, I’ve duelled regularly with the black dog and will always invert the finger of blame back at myself should the occasion allow it. Didn’t get that job I applied for? Must be because I’m a horribly inadequate person. Even if there were 600 other competitiors.
In an economy where creative opportunities are slimming down at terrifying speed, the spectre of self doubt is never far. It’s easy to take job rejections, ignored pitches and a general dearth of prospects as a personal hit – assuming it’s a lack of talent holding you back, rather than a lack of luck. And it’s not just us mere mortals that have self deprecation demons to wrestle with.
King of neurosis Woody Allen was once quoted saying: ‘I never make a film I’m not disappointed in’. Perhaps it’s this level of self criticism that’s kept him producing at unfathomable pace for nearly 60 years, but I have to wonder just how much inward whip cracking can be deemed constructive. Twenty minutes into writing this piece I’m already starting to despise my inarticulate scrawlings; but I know that won’t help me reach a Camus-esque conclusion. Watch this space.
Is it really so difficult to practice self compassion? Random acts of benevolence towards others are everywhere – as shown by artist Michael Landy’s project Acts of Kindness. Aiming to eventually display and celebrate examples of everyday generosity and compassion on the tube, the site ended up being flooded with touching tales of rush hour thoughtfulness. Then there’s the Coca-Cola’s campaign ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, which spotlighted a rabble of people caught on camera doing lovely things for total strangers – from a woman who high-fives everyone she sees, to a secret gardener.
We’re a fairly caring, sharing and squishy bunch, I’d say. So how about redirecting a morsel of that kindness back inwards? It may even help with your career, apparently.
Self compassion can actually lead to higher levels of productivity and a higher likelihood of improving performance after failure. Maybe now’s not the time to tell prospective employers that you’re this century’s answer to Orwell, but weeping into your pot noodle because your portfolio ‘isn’t good enough’ to land that publishing deal eight million other writers want clearly won’t help either.
As for me, I’m not sure this article is Pulitzer-prize worthy but it must be at least deserving of a cuppa and a Hobnob. Biscuity nutrition over crippling self doubt? Perhaps there is something to this kindness thing after all.