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Wednesday conversation: Favorite joke?

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 14, 2010 06:34 AM

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Here's our Wednesday conversation topics: What is your favorite joke?

Here's the complication: I don't mean the joke you think is funniest, necessarily, but a joke that somehow expresses an aspect of your personality or philosophy of life.

I have a friend, for example, whose favorite joke is this chestnut:

Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I go like this."
Doctor: "Don't go like that."

To him, this gets to a certain basic, obvious, yet difficult-to-apply truth of human life, which is that if something is making you miserable, stop doing it. (Advice I often find myself having to give in my columns!)

My favorite would be this one:

Two men are out camping. One of them hears a noise outside the tent and looks out. He quickly ducks back in and starts lacing up his running shoes. "There's a bear out there," he tells his friend.

"Why are you putting on your shoes?" his friend asks. "You can't outrun a bear."

"I don't have to outrun the bear," the first man replies. "I only have to outrun you."

It's a nasty little joke in terms of what it says about friendship, I suppose, but I like it. I first heard it shortly after I'd gotten involved in self-defense training, and it summarized pretty well, I thought, what a good self-defense course like IMPACT/Model Mugging can do for a person. If someone has it out for me personally in a deeply committed way, they will probably get me. There's no such thing as perfect security for anyone. But if someone is simply looking for a victim? They will look elsewhere.

The joke later became my mantra against perfectionism. I had a bad perfectionist/procrastination habit for years, which I've finally gotten over. I've realized that "good enough," in fact, usually is. I don't have be William Shakespeare; I just have to write a thank-you note that's legible and sincere. I don't have to create a wholly new paradigm that will transform psychology; I just have to write a dissertation that my committee finds acceptable. I don't have to make the bestseller list and get my own talk show; I just have to write the best etiquette book I can. I don't have to turn Milo into an agility champion; I just have to keep him safe and happy and well-exercised.

I don't have to outrun the bear.

Tell me your joke. 

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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