Humility the Tenth Step

The tenth step of humility is that you are not given to ready laughter, for it is written: Only a fool raises his voice in laughter (Sir 21:23).

Humility the 10th Step

Ceramic plate from the Sisters' personal collections.

At first glance, Benedict’s disapproval of laughter makes him appear to be an ill-tempered spoilsport who wants us to be glum too. But rather, Benedict wants us to be serious about our humor. He is not opposed to all laughter, but to specific kinds of laughter that are opposed to humility. Loud and boisterous laughter may come from a desire for attention and may interrupt and impose itself on others.  The ready expression of laughter that Benedict speaks of may come without awareness of its source or possible impact on others. And some kinds of humor harm others and are not funny. For Benedict, humor should be used for love.

Unfortunately, laughter is sometimes used at the expense of another person– laughing at a person rather than with him or her. Sarcasm and irony are forms of humor that are sometimes used as weapon to hurt others; the word sarcasm comes from a Greek word meaning “to tear flesh.” It employs words with a literal meaning different from the intended or underlying message. This allows the speaker to claim innocence when the recipient protests, and then accuse him or her of misunderstanding or hypersensitivity: Can’t you take a joke? I was speaking facetiously.

 Other inappropriate uses of humor are vulgar and cheap jokes and put-downs. Sometimes when we hear humor employed this way, we respond with an uneasy laughter, perhaps afraid and unsure of how to challenge the speaker. We may cover up an uncomfortable situation with a false humor to avoid speaking directly and honestly. Do we even know why we are laughing? Do we recognize when something is hurtful and not funny?

In step ten, Benedict is telling us to be serious about our humor, and to use it for love, not harm. Although laughter can be misused inappropriately, it can also be used for good. It has the potential to make us feel good and enjoy life and one another. When we share laughter with others, good feelings are spread, and our relationships are strengthened. This kind of laugher is an audible and visible expression of joy, and a sign of a humble heart.

Humility Step 10Another humble kind of humor that Benedict would approve of is the ability to laugh at yourself. This shows self-awareness of your weaknesses and an ability to learn from mistakes. When you can laugh at yourself, you are mindful of God’s grace and mercy. Imagine God’s loving laughter joining in to laugh with you, not at you, and imagine God’s joy, knowing that you are learning and forgiving yourself.

Cultivating humility within our hearts can help us use humor for love rather than for harm.

Humility helps us to be sensitive to the feelings of others. This awareness helps us to monitor and restrain our speech to avoid the kind of joking or jesting around that may hurt others.  We become more conscious about what causes us to laugh and what underlies our attempts to make humorous remarks. Humility may even give us the courage to speak up and challenge an inappropriate comment that is not funny.

In chapter 72, Benedict speaks of good zeal, an unfeigned, pure, and humble love that we can show one another. When we use our humor with good zeal, we are laughing with humility.

Humility frees our hearts to be open to joy and to be more loving with ourselves, with others, and with our God. The joys of laughter and humor are a gift from God, and they are even better when shared with others.

Invitation:  May your laughter be an expression of shared love and joy for others.

Humility the 10th Step


Sister Jacqueline Leiter, OSB is a member of St. Paul’s Monastery (since 2003).  She is an educator (most recently working in Saint Paul Public Schools), an artist, and serves on the Leadership Team as Treasurer (since 2019).