How often have we heard “I was just being sarcastic”? How often have we used these very words to explain away unkind or cutting remarks? How often, though, has sarcasm stung or hurt when we have been on the receiving end of it? Often, when we use sarcasm, we underestimate the power of a sarcastic comment.
My Kindergartner is only in half-day Kindergarten — so I have to pick him up from school everyday. This is normally fine and something I enjoy doing. However, the other day, just as we were leaving to get him, my toddler had a diaper malfunction. It wasn’t a pretty malfunction and everything had to be cleaned up — right then. By the time the mess was picked up, we were late — really late. We began the process of loading up the car to drive into town and collect my Kindergartner. While we traversed the 100 feet to the car, my preschooler had to stop and look at every single spring bulb blooming in my flower garden. Out of sheer panic from being so late, I snapped off the comment “Could you go any slower?” The hurt in her eyes was there for just a brief moment — a millisecond, or so. But, it was that hurt that got me thinking about the use of sarcasm. That hurt caused me to hurt. I was wrong. I apologized and vowed to do better.
Sarcasm is often the result of hurt feelings, frustration, pride, or low self-worth. Sarcasm doesn’t come from the emotions of love, support, or caring. Sarcastic remarks are used as a way to get out some of the pent-up anger someone may be experiencing. Really, when we employ sarcasm we turn those with whom we are speaking into verbal punching bags.
No amount of “Just Kidding” takes away the sting sarcastic words create. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is false and misleading.
Words are how we communicate our deepest feelings, our interests, our hopes, our fears, and our frustrations. The words we use, especially as parents, greatly affect our children’s concept of self-worth. The words we use as spouses, friends, and siblings are just as powerful and can affect our spouse’s, friends’, and siblings’ feelings of self-worth.
We are all given this great ability to support and uplift, or tear down and destroy, those around us.
Sarcasm is a tool that tears down. We use it to lash out when we have been hurt ourselves instead of recognizing why we are hurt and addressing those reasons. Often, the most innocent around us receive the largest onslaught of our anger.
These techniques may help the next time sarcasm comes to our lips:
Stop and Think – How will my words be understood from the perspective of the listener?
Remember, how the message is understood is the part of the listener. No matter what the sender was meaning, how the listener understood the message is what the message is. This is what can make sarcasm so detrimental – the speaker may know he or she is joking or not being too serious; but the listener may not know this intention, and take the reproof seriously and as spoken.
Evaluate Personal Feelings – Is what I’m saying a reaction to my feelings of anger or sadness?
Much of our desire to respond with sarcasm comes from our own feelings – whether we are sad, feeling down on ourselves, or angry about something else entirely. Often, when I’m annoyed with something else – that’s when I choose to use sarcasm with someone entirely unrelated to the annoying situation.
Solving Problems – Will my response help solve the problem or escalate the situation?
Rarely do sarcastic remarks help people collaborate together. If there’s a problem that needs to be solved, sarcasm usually sours the collaborative process, shutting it down. Many times the opportunity to solve a difficult problem is lost because those involved in the problem solving process use sarcasm when the problem becomes difficult. If a child is already feeling upset about a bad grade, a sarcastic remark will not help that child feel better. Rather, discussing the subject and brainstorming better ways to study for the subject has a better chance of helping the child move forward and improve.
Using sarcasm is a hard habit to break, and is one I still struggle with. It takes a lot of self-control to keep the cutting remarks from escaping and hurting those we love. However, as with any new habit, as we practice controlling the words we use, and think more carefully about the impact they will have – we will find we are better able to control our sarcastic voices. We will find ourselves building those around us, rather than tearing them down. And as an interesting result of building, rather than tearing – we will find our own feeling of self-worth increasing.