Sarcasm: The Bane of My Life
People are not going to like me after this post.
In fact, I almost abandoned the idea altogether but, alas, I just must write. If I don’t, I’ll regret not writing it and I go out of my way to avoid regret. Hence, I write my own demise. It seems that, at least in my own life, most people enjoy sarcasm. Some even excel at it. I’ve learned to generally smile politely, pat their egos when I must and ignore whenever possible. The truth, though, is that sarcasm deeply bothers me. Sarcasm was rarely directed at an event, it was rarely directed at the cosmos, no, instead, it was usually directed at an individual. To make sure I wasn’t just being an overly sensitive female, I referred to my Oxford dictionary and this is the definition I found of the word “sarcasm”:
1. a bitter or wounding remark
2. taunt, esp one ironically worded
For back-up, I referred to http://www.dictionary.com . It’s definition was as follows:
n — the use of mocking, contemptuous or ironic language intended to convey scorn or insult
Before I really get going on a soapbox here and indulge myself by picking apart these definitions, let me also add that the word “sarcasm” actually meant to “tear flesh; bite the lips in rage; sneer; to cut”
In other words, sarcasm uses other people’s behaviors, attitudes, appearance or whatever to boost the ego of the sarcastic one. Sometimes it sounds really clever and can catch even the toughest critic off guard. Recently, I participated in an online debate (they often spur such blog posts) on a topic that actually matters to me. When I really care about a subject and feel safe enough to express my honest to God opinion…. well, let’s just say, I do so passionately. I never engage in a debate or discussion on which I’m ill-informed and if I am ill-informed, I research it first. But, as usual, I was the underdog in this discussion, despite very convincing and well-researched evidence that supported my position. I don’t know how to write short…. anything. Even my Facebook status updates generally involve quite a few lines so I was wordy. At one point, one of the participants wrote: “does your train of thought ever have a caboose?”
It was clever because, like I said, I do tend to over-analyze, over-write and basically be long-winded. It was clever. When it popped up, I just rolled my eyes, wrote back that we just needed to agree to disagree and then left the discussion. The sarcastic remark stuck with me, though. Do people really get tired of listening to my explanations? Do they really think my essays, my updates, everything is all just a little too much? Do they ever wish I’d just be quiet?
Sarcasm lifts one up but demeans another. Whether he was serious or not is irrelevant. Whether he was just teasing or not is really irrelevant. The point is his comment made me question and doubt… myself, really, and if we knew each other in “real” life, it might have done more than that: it would have been a comment that really hurt my feelings. But it was clever and I’m sure the other participants reading the thread thought so too. I’m sure it garnered him a couple of chuckles because there was a piece of truth in it.
Sarcasm is the grown-up method of bullying. If a child ever called another child stupid or any other name, I would make that child apologize. If he did it regularly to other children, I would call him a bully. Yet, call something “sarcastic” and it seems you’ve got a license to harshly insult another human being. All in the name of humor. The target of the insult is expected to sheepishly laugh along with you. Bullies attack because they don’t feel good about themselves. They attack those who they perceive to be weaker or less [insert choice of word here] than they are. Grown-ups think the same way: highlighting the weaknesses of others boosts their egos, makes them feel smart. Also, it makes others laugh, which makes them think they’re funny and must mean it’s okay. Right?
Not to me.
I value the human being too much and I care about the effect I have on others’ emotions. Words are the most powerful weapon human beings have. They can rip into someone’s heart and destroy self-esteem just as a baseball bat can break glass with one swing. But the thing with words is, we don’t see their effects as clearly as we can see the broken glass. We don’t know the crack it made in another person’s thoughts. We don’t see the self-doubt that can cover their confidence. Furthermore, we don’t know the details of our friends’ lives. We don’t know what someone else is dealing with. The clerk in the grocery store who took three million years to ring up your groceries? Maybe it’s her first day back on the job after losing her son to cancer but just because you don’t know that, you mock her. People are nothing if not a walking story–behind every action, there’s a motive, behind every word, there’s a life. Does the sarcastic comedian stop and think about the bullet he’s about to deliver with his mouth before he does it, or does he just see an opportunity to make others laugh?
I’ve known people, loved people, who are sarcastic and have grown a “thick skin.” But I don’t take pride in that. Instead, I think it’s sad that grown-ups have to be guarded against other grown-ups. I think it’s sad that human beings can totally disrespect another person without a second thought. Using others to make yourself feel superior, or smart–doesn’t that sound ridiculous? “I’m not going to engage in an intellectual debate with an unarmed person” — when I hear that, what I really hear is: “I don’t know how respond to what you said because it contradicts my baseless opinion, but I don’t want to give you credit. So instead, I’ll laugh at you.” What do you hear?
I know there are really famous and well thought of individuals who make their living through sarcasm. I know it’s entertaining to watch them. But every sarcastic remark that comes out of their mouths is aimed at a real human being, someone with feelings, emotions and a whole host of memories and experiences that can make them vulnerable to harsh words. They might not show it. The offender might never know h/she put someone through emotional turmoil with a comment s/he probably won’t remember even making the next day. That does not mean it bounced off the target’s heart. The offender might never know but the comment could very easily have an earthquake effect in someone’s mind: one question leads to another and another and soon, that person is questioning themselves, believing after one too many sarcastic remarks that s/he’s not funny, not pretty, not smart, not clever. I said at the beginning of this post that I almost didn’t write it. I almost didn’t write it because I know many people enjoy sarcasm, and I was afraid of being laughed at, of writing something I knew would make some become defensive. I didn’t want to practically invite sarcasm into my world again. But I care about people, and I know the power of words.
I teach a class and our class motto is: “As a PRIM, I will be careful of what I say…” I never take anything I say lightly, as I know that every time I speak, I have the power to uplift or wound another individual. And I’d reached my breaking point, I’d had enough. Words hurt. The hurt just takes time to manifest. Sadly, most of the adult population has developed a mechanism for dealing with this kind of “humor.” Most of us will laugh right alongside you, because we’d rather laugh than admit to being embarrassed or to feeling inferior. We assume it’s not personal. But then again… the schoolyard bully is the kid most of us never forgot. We remember the bully who tormented us five days a week more than we remember the names of our teachers who taught us how to multiply. It is personal. And it’s not funny, it’s an attack against the confidence, intelligence and self-esteem of another person. It’s mean. And it reminds me of a lesson I’d wager all of us learned as children: If I don’t have something nice to say, then I shouldn’t say anything at all.