Mr. Sarcasm 1993! That’s what one of my best friends used to call me in college. She would change it based on the year. I didn’t always speak in bulk. But, when I was bothered, there was potential for sarcasm. Why, exactly? I’m not sure. It may have been because sarcasm can be funny…probably not for the person on the receiving end but for the others in the vicinity. Actually, in thinking about it now, I realize it filled my own need for affirmation. We get affirmed when people pay attention to us and when we are able to make people laugh. It’s almost like a drug.
I remember making the decision at the end of my junior year in high school. I decided I wasn’t going to be quiet kid who shrunk into the background. I was going to speak up a bit more and even be the class comedian when I could. I tried a few jokes early on in my senior year and got kicked out of class. When I met the principal in his office, he seemed shocked I was there.
“Robert, what are YOU doing in here?”
After I explained the situation, he smirked and told me, “Get back to class and cut out the antics.”
He knew who I was better than I did. But, ahh that drug. I had tasted it and wanted more. Of course, I couldn’t keep being kicked out of class but the laughter was addicting. I had to find another way. By the time I arrived at college, I’d found a way which was a bit more subtle, yet achieved some of the same effect.
For the most part, I was calm, even-keeled, and even nice. So, when I was sarcastic, it didn’t come across as hateful. Sometimes, it was playful. But, it was still sarcasm. It was a great affirmation tool which I continued to use until the day I really learned how it can make the other person feel.
I was married and we were with my family. I don’t remember what was said, but my wife made a statement and I made a sarcastic retort. OWWW!! My mind just replayed the look I received and I got sad all over again. It wasn’t a fiery look of anger. It wasn’t laughter. It was a look of dejection.
Why did the person who is supposed to love and protect me just serve me up on a platter of humiliation?
I thought it was supposed to be funny. I had perfected the technique. I got the laughs but they didn’t matter now.
What It Really Is
As a communication technique, sarcasm is really a poor choice. It works for comedians on stage. But, in personal communication, here’s what I’ve learned about sarcasm:
1. It is usually hostility disguised as humor. It’s passive-aggressive humor. In thinking back, I realize I used it often as a spear when I was threatened. Although I may have appeared confident to others, I wasn’t. An immature observer may have admired the wit and ability to say what I wanted. However, they missed the deeper issue.
2. It creates a barrier. People will never really feel like they can get too close because of their human need to protect themselves…from YOU! While your barbs may not be directed at them initially, they never know when it might turn.
3. It’s a survival technique for the insecure. In order to feel stronger, safer, more important, more affirmed, I used sarcasm to draw attention. I recognized later it was for the wrong reason. My wife’s look made me understand that my attempt at strength weakened her. And that’s not what a loving relationship needs.
4. It’s a power play for the gutless. We watch movies about people who trample others to get to higher places on Wall Street. We cringe at their heartless behavior. Yet, sarcasm also tramples on others in order to seem higher.
5. It erodes or kills relationships. Either people will stop communicating with you immediately or it will be a slow death. But, either way, healthy relationships need effective communication.
What To Do
Communication is critical. It’s important to personal relationships and workplace/business relationships. The best relationships are the ones where you are able to be authentically you without the fear of being hurt…the ones where you can feel safe.
If you encounter a person who is consistently sarcastic, you can:
- ignore the comments
- take the comments as literally as possible to take the humor out of it
- talk about it and let them know how you feel about the comments
If you ARE the sarcastic person, it might be time to:
- find those you have been most recently sarcastic with and apologize
- ask yourself what your true intent was behind the communication
- see if there is another way can communicate the same information without hurt
- practice different language skills
- develop practical ways of increasing your own esteem
Sarcasm is funny…but only on stage, by trained comedians, where it isn’t hurting your relationships.