“When she was young, she thought sarcasm was the sign of true wit.”

“But as she aged, she realized that sarcasm was just easy and lazy, and more damaging than enlightening.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sarcasm lately, since it’s been such a dear friend of mine over the years.
–See that? Putting such in italics? I can even write in sarcasm! irony mark
(Back in the 19th century they even experimented with a sarcasm/irony mark as above. Can’t find it on my keyboard, though.)

Sarcasm is everywhere, and in meme form, it’s a virtual epidemic. (Just try searching on Pinterest for Sarcasm, then stand back and shield yourself!)

sarcasm2

Then . . . I heard the sentiment above, that sarcasm is just easy and lazy and damaging.

And I thought . . . Oops.

Good old Wikipedia gave me more insight (and I mean that sincerely—I DO like Wikipedia, no snark intended). Look at the meaning:
The word comes from the Greek σαρκασμός (sarkasmos) which is taken from the word σαρκάζειν meaning “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer”.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm)

Tear the flesh?! No, I don’t mean to do that! I just mean to be a bit snarky, but validate it by saying I was only being sarcastic . . .

“Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.”
That’s from Thomas Carlyle.
That’s piercing me to the core.

Language of the devil? Uh . . . maybe. Consider all of those angry cat memes. There’s definitely a connection. (I heard this cat’s name is Beelzebub . . .)

angry cat

(And I hate myself for sniggering at this. Funny, but . . .)

But is sarcasm really that awful? I mean, come on. People bug us, so we MUST retaliate, right?

sarcasm

Then I read this article about “No Corrupt Communication,” (read it here) by Jennifer Grace Jones: “Not all sarcasm is intentionally sinister, but it has a hypocritical edge because it requires us to say the opposite of what we mean. Some use it for humor, but it often damages our relationships.”

I’ve known families that communicate only in sarcasm, and there’s very little genuine love expressed. In fact, there’s very little expressed at all, except thinly veiled contempt, when I suspect they actually feel much, much more. But they’ve never learned to speak in any other way.

In another article I found this painful little nugget: “Sarcasm . . . is usually based on inordinate pride and is usually aimed at some person or group thought to be inferior.”

Erg. Yes. I may be guilty of this . . .

All right, I am. And I know it, because when I employ a little snarky jab, or laugh at yet another sarcastic meme, I always feel a twinge of regret later, as if I just ate the last of the cookies and told my kids I didn’t know what happened to them.
Initially, I enjoyed gorging myself, then afterwards I remind myself I could have done something much better.

The words of a fantastic and inspired sweet old man, gone now from this world, put it like this:
“Everywhere is heard the snide remark, the sarcastic gibe, the cutting down of associates. Sadly, these are too often the essence of our conversation. In our homes, wives weep and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by husbands and fathers. Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes a catalyst that leads to failure.”
~Gordon B. Hinckley

Hickley 1

Look at that face. That’s a man who never uttered a sarcastic word in his life. I want a face like that. (Except female. And a bit younger, and . . . but you know what I mean. And the hat–the hat’s awesome!)

But then I found this nugget by Dostoyevsky and, like any person forced to make a life in Russia, he sees things a bit darker, a bit harder: “Sarcasm is usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”

Is there a place for sarcasm? It’s not always hurtful; occasionally we use it in our family in what I think are gentle, teasing ways . . . until my 5-year-old says, with sad eyes, “I don’t like it when you tease me. I feel confused.”

Ooh. Sorry.

Maybe sarcasm is ok only in limited circumstances, when the only other option is violence or rage.
Maybe it’s the only way to deal with disappointment.
I find myself leaning on it as a crutch when I deal with toddlers. For example, when I found my 19-month-old had colored again on the walls with “washable” markers (Crayola and I need to have a talk about the definition of “washable”), I looked into his big proud eyes and said, with all the sincerity of heart I could muster, “Why thank you. You know, when I was hugely pregnant with you and painted each one of these a nice pale blue in anticipation of your arrival, I hadn’t expected that you would want to augment the color with purple, brown, and pink. It’s just . . . lovely.”

Either that, or rage at the poor little guy even though it was my fault for thinking I had secured the markers, but failed to hide every chair in the house to keep them out of reach.  Sarcasm saved my little guy, calmed my frustration, and made me chuckle at myself as I uselessly scrubbed.

No, my soul wasn’t exactly “coarsely . . . invaded,” but something inside of me was pinged, and sarcasm saved us all.

But I think these are rare circumstances. Consider this meme:

rude

Sarcasm, at its heart, is simply sheer rudeness to those we feel we’re superior to.

All of us are better than that, surely!

Again from Jones’s article: “I’ve noted that those who use [sarcasm] tend to underestimate its negative effects because they assume that what they say is humorous instead of hurtful. People who use sarcasm often think their targets are too sensitive or naïve when feelings get hurt. “She just can’t take a joke,” they say. In more disturbing cases, sarcasm communicates contempt for others and gives people the “dishonest opportunity to wound without looking like they’re wounding.”

I want to be better than that, so I’m attempting to put myself on a sarcasm diet. I’m going to parcel out my servings of sarcasm, or indulgences of snarkiness, as judiciously as I should be eating cookies. Sparingly, appropriately, and avoiding it as often as possible.

Another gem from that sweet old man, Gordon B. Hinckely: “I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.”

Hinckley 2

Sarcasm is easy, lazy, and “the imitation of strength.”

I want to be stronger—truly stronger. And not eat so many cookies.

One thought on ““When she was young, she thought sarcasm was the sign of true wit.”

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