“Sarcasm is the last refuge of the imaginatively bankrupt.” ― Cassandra Clare, City of Bones
If you’ve ever eaten at a Thai restaurant, you’ve probably been asked after ordering your food, “How spicy do you want that?” My answer is almost always the same, “Just enough to let me know it’s there, but not enough to set my mouth on fire.” If you’ve ever used too much salt in a recipe it ruins it with too much of a good thing, and if you’ve left the salt completely out it is left without much flavor at all. Sarcasm isn’t any different. There are times a little well-placed humor can lighten an otherwise dark room of people (my husband is so good at this). When it becomes a knife to rip someone apart, though, it is too much. In looking for a quote to set the tone, everything I found was so degrading to one person or another, one group or another, that I almost gave up. I don’t know if Clare’s book is any good, but her quote is perfect.
Sarcasm comes from the 16th century Greek word sarkazein, meaning to tear flesh. Think about the times you’ve heard someone being sarcastic, or times that you have resorted to sarcasm. Had you just run out of anything nice to say? Were you bankrupt? If you pay attention, you’ll notice that misplaced sarcasm doesn’t just cut people, it cuts relationships out of a person’s life. It takes a lot of effort to think of something to say that doesn’t cut another person down when you are frustrated with them or with yourself. Do you have what it takes to be the better person?
Maybe you think people like me should lighten up, but in an age of voiceless texts, emails, and social media posts it is difficult to decide if someone is being mean, insensitive, or are paying you a complement. In fact, that is often how sarcasm comes across: in a way that could be taken as a compliment, but in a tone that lets you know there’s really nothing nice about it. Nice haircut. Nice haircut. I can hear my voice in my head say it one way to poke fun at the bad haircut, while in my other voice I am letting them know I really like their haircut.
If you have trouble with relationships, how you speak to people is one of the first things you might want to check. If making snarky comments feels comfortable to you, you will pay a price in the way people feel about you, talk about you, and eventually respond to you. It’s another case of small-minded people trying to appear bigger than other people. If this is uncomfortable for you to hear, it might mean it’s time for you to pay attention.
Are you guilty of overusing sarcasm as some kind of defense mechanism? Todd Smith (Little Things Matter) offers 3 things to do to break a sarcastic habit:
- Keep a mental or written list of the reactions and consequences you notice when those around you are the target of sarcasm. This awareness alone will be a powerful motivator to change your own behavior.
- Think before you speak. Considering how your words will be received is a very effective way to monitor your speech.
- Enlist a trusted friend or partner who is willing to enter a sarcasm-free zone with you. Agree that you will hold each other accountable when you hear the other person using sarcasm.
Humor is great. Sarcasm is destructive. Teachers, bosses, and parents who feel they have a right to use sarcasm to show they have power can do better, and the people around them deserve their best.
“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” -Yehuda Berg