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TCL > February 1997 Issue > Lighten Up

February 1997       Vol. 26, No. 2       Page  15
CBA President's Message to Members

Lighten Up
by Miles Cortez

As usual, I rose first this morning at 5:30 a.m. so I could spend hamster-like time on the treadmill, elevating the heart rate for the requisite length of time while CNBC’s morning crew informed me of the world and business news. Like many of you, I’m still in that resolution mode, and ridding myself of ten pounds made its annual appearance on the list: physically lighten up. I fear the day when I step on a talking scale and the voice says, "Just one at a time, please."

After the workout and shower, I dressed with a view toward the day’s schedule. While observers may quibble with my self-assessment, I do not consider myself sartorially impaired, and I make a legitimate effort to don matching clothes appropriate for the occasion. As I stepped out of my closet to wake my wife Jan and kiss her goodbye for the day, she hit me with that question other husbands have heard on occasion: "Are you wearing that today?" Knowing well the import of the query, having previously heard it, oh, once or twice, I was prepared with a most sensible response: "Of course not, I was just practicing getting dressed and grabbed whatever was at hand."

Back in front of the mirror, trying to figure out what was so offensive to the eye (the clothing mix, not the face or body I’m stuck with) so I could re-garb, I chuckled at my own ineptitude. It’s good to laugh at ourselves, not take ourselves so seriously. We spend so much time in analytical, worrisome, fretful, fearful, angry, somber, impatient, or other serious thought. The old saw that laughter is good medicine is true; even recent scientific studies support the premise. We need to lighten up. None of us is as important as we usually think we are. Appropriate to this discussion, and the context in which I found myself this morning, is the Confucian (just kidding) observation: "Man who keeps feet firmly on ground has difficult time putting on his pants."

Miles Cortez "lightens up"
as Ross Perot.

Speaking With Humor

This year I’ve had many opportunities to speak publicly on behalf of the bar. Even the driest speaker, if experienced, knows that interspersing humor in prepared or extemporaneous remarks is de rigueur, lest the speaker wants to be addressing an audience of the living dead. Unfortunately, finding appropriate humor, and using it without fear of offending in an age of hypersensitivity, is no easy task. Political rectitude demands adherence to a sanitized menu of offerings that excludes material that can be considered even remotely offensive to someone. The extent to which we have taken this trend, well-intentioned and necessary when it began, has become extreme, and there is a self-anointed corps of critics ready to pounce on offenders. But the humor pendulum will swing back eventually, letting us laugh more freely at ourselves without being offensive. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

As I prepare remarks for my talks, I’m blessed by the fact that when it comes to laughing at myself, there is a bottomless pit of material. Notwithstanding some justified fears of the bar staff, I’ve been able to avoid major speaking missteps by keeping myself as the butt of my attempts at humor. After the person introducing me musters some nice things to say by way of introduction, I like to point out that people haven’t always said very nice things about me.

By way of example, I profess that during my two-year stint in the U.S. Army, my officer efficiency reports frequently contained some ego-deflating evaluations. One of my superiors observed that "this officer may not be very bright, but he sure is short." Another noted that "this officer fails to meet the low standards he sets for himself." The other one I recall, from a superior officer who was obviously a closet shrink, made this observation: "Captain Cortez frequently manifests a complete lack of self-confidence, which shows good judgment."

Nevertheless, mistakes have been made. Speaking at the El Paso County Bar Association annual meeting a few months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of presenting an outstanding lawyer, Scott Briggs, with that bar’s Professionalism Award. It’s a wonderful award by which peers accord one of their own richly deserved recognition, and the tribute was particularly meaningful to Scott and the El Paso County Bar because Scott was moving to California where his wife had recently accepted a major promotion.

In making the presentation to Scott, I bemoaned the unfairness of Colorado sending its very best to California at the same time we were being overrun with riffraff from California. This extemporaneous comment was intended to heap further praise on Scott while making a pithy (no lisp intended) observation on demographics. Unfortunately, next on the luncheon’s agenda was the bar’s introduction of its new members, the majority of whom were transplants from California. The head table rarely provides the most comfortable seat in the house.

Laughing feels good. We’re healthier when we lighten up. And we compound the benefit of laughing when we laugh first at ourselves. We are ready material, a bird in the hand, if you will. Of course, keep in mind that a bird in the hand makes it very hard to blow your nose. We all can afford to increase our humor quotient, for it is axiomatic that he (oops, or she) who laughs last thinks the slowest.

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