I’ve been doing some soul-searching for a couple of years. I’ve also been saying stuff like that for much longer, so let it be known, I’m probably always doing some kind of in-depth introspection regarding various concepts about life because #introvert, and I love it because I’m always learning new things about the world, and measuring those things against what I know and am learning about myself is how I believe I’m becoming a better, more aware, more educated person.
Here’s what I’ve always known: people are very proud of sarcasm. It makes us feel smart. And here’s why – it’s a form of irony, and irony, being a tool of humor, doesn’t click with everyone. Not everyone gets it. So being in on a joke that other people are not in on makes us feel elite, better-than, superior. I am better than you because I get sarcasm.
People are also very proud of their regular use of sarcasm. And this is something I don’t understand as easily. I think it ties into the feeling that it makes us smart, but getting sarcasm and using sarcasm all the time aren’t the same.
A couple of years ago, I was listening to The Liturgists interview comedian Pete Holmes on one of their podcasts. In this interview, they talk about the science, art, and faith of humor – what makes something funny and why. In this interview, Pete says that he does not like sarcasm at all. He says that it’s an excuse for people to not be funny – to which he says, “then just don’t be funny.” You can still be a nice, kind, pleasant, and enjoyable person without having to be funny. I agree.
But this comment reminded me of the greatest book series ever written – Anne of Green Gables. In the fourth book, Anne of Windy Poplars, there is a character introduced named Katherine Brooke. She is the vice principal at Summerside High School, where Anne has taken a position as the principal. She is described primarily as being sarcastic, one of Anne’s most despised traits.
So these two instances are two of the few times I can recall encountering a negative attitude toward sarcastic people. Most everyone else embraces it. I had to think about this some more.
Anne Shirley is the epitome of sincerity in a person. She makes her feelings known, and doesn’t understand the need to hide them behind snark, snideness, or sarcasm. Sarcasm, for her, is an excuse for people to not be real about their feelings, and she doesn’t understand that. Her openness with her emotions does invite hurt at times, but mostly, she’s a better person because everyone knows where they stand with her, and so they respect her for it.
Indeed, sarcasm is the opposite of sincerity, genuineness, and vulnerability. It is a shield, a facade, and an excuse to not be real with people.
How many times have I used it so I wouldn’t have to literally say, “You’ve hurt my feelings”?
How many times have I hurt others with such a bite or a sting by belittling them with that language?
Let me make sure everyone understands that I do believe there is a place in humor for sarcasm, but most people misuse it dreadfully. There are many times a statement of fact is not enough to have its effect on people, so we use irony, parody, satire, and sarcasm to make our point. Saturday Night Live has been around for over 30 years because it works. Mark Twain is Mark Twain because he knew this too.
But here’s the problem with those of us who use sarcasm on a daily basis with those we interact with the most: we’re not performing. We’re not acting for an audience that doesn’t know who we are, we’re working with and living with people who know us and our feelings, so why do they need to be dressed up with tools meant for literature or humor? The way sarcasm is meant to be used is not the way we use it every day. We use it for hostility and disguise it as humor.
This is not literature or humor, this is life at home. This is reality with our loved ones. So when we use sarcasm, the only real thing we accomplish is widening a gap. That’s what irony is – a gap between what is said and what is meant. And it heightens one’s feelings of insecurity. My sister used to say all the time that the Greek word from which we get our word for sarcasm literally means “to tear or rip off flesh.” This is not a productive way to grow relationships with people. It’s a great way to damage them.
Sarcasm is an excuse to not be funny. It’s an easy fall-back for people who don’t know how to be witty. Wit exposes absurdities with sincerity and can connect concepts in a clever way that can result in humor.
At the risk of sounding trite: just be real with people.
So I’ve increasingly grown to disrespect the overt use of sarcasm and the abuse of it as a method of communicating with those around us. It is a refusal to hold others accountable for the way they’ve made us feel, it’s not a mark of intelligence. It’s a weapon, used for the purpose of cutting others down, stinging them for no reason so we can either make ourselves feel better or so we can share our feelings insincerely.
Just say what you mean, please.