Benjamin McNutt: 'Thank God, it will soon be dark'

Medieval monks scribbled lessons on humor and perseverance in their manuscript margins.

“Only hire funny people…You have to have the ability to laugh, or you’ll never last.” I was interviewing a young director of a nonprofit when she told me this was the advice a seasoned leader gave her for persevering in her work. Normally such two-cent wisdom tends to show up in cliché Hallmark cards or tipsy wedding toasts: “Remember to laugh.” Oh dear.

But the severity of her work -- she helps women escape sex-trafficking -- and the many set-backs it entails speak to a deeper connection between perseverance and humor. Her ability to persevere shows that another mark of resilient people -- a virtue difficult to spot on the surface -- is humor, at least the self-deprecating kind.

It seems the Medieval monks knew this intuitively. Thanks to the savvy folks at Brain Pickings, we have an historical record of some light-hearted gripes the monastic scribes left in the margins of their manuscripts. If monks are a benchmark for holiness, then I suppose it's saintly to complain, because I can’t imagine a more tedious, painstaking job than that of the Medieval scribe: 


To the chagrin of the old five-point Calvinists, the “perseverance of the saints” takes on a new meaning -- a lame joke they wouldn’t find funny.

Benjamin McNutt is the editor of Call & Response. You can follow him on Twitter @benjaminmcnutt.