A couple years ago I started a new tradition at “White Elephant” gift exchanges–wrapping up a common but valuable item from the host’s home and giving it away during the exchange. The look on their faces is pretty enjoyable. On top of that is the benefit of their awkward attempts to retrieve their possessions. I started another similar tradition when I first discover a friend’s trigger–stepping all over it without cracking a smile. “I don’t know where we’d be without Obamacare! Don’t you hate it when people use words like ‘socialism’ or ‘redistribution’ to hoard their money and keep people from basic healthcare?” When I take my “playful” tendencies with our kids too far, Bonnie often reminds me of Ephesians 6:4: “Father’s! Don’t provoke your children!”
The Problem With Sarcasm
I’m well aware of the problems with sarcasm. It’s an easy thought-rut to fall into. I like to think of it like a strong spice–good in certain places when used very sparingly. Too much of it, or used wrongly, and it quickly turns bitter. The word itself is pretty indicting. It comes from the Greek word sarkazein, which means, “to tear or strip the flesh off.” People will say it’s a survival technique for the insecure, a wounded person’s means of deflection, or a passive aggressive attempt to lob a truth bomb that can’t be returned. It certainly can be all of those things. But for many people, it’s just a light-hearted and somewhat defensive way of seeing and relating to the world.
Some thoughts on the dangers of sarcasm and how to break out of the thought-rut…
Sarcasm, like anger, can function as a mask, concealing deeper and truer emotions. What starts out as a sharp wit and slight defensiveness can turn into a jaded and cutting humor and feigned indifference that has a numbing effect on our souls.
The posture of sarcasm requires distance and objectification. You look on as a spectator or judge. Joy can only be experienced where there is vulnerability and authenticity.
The more sarcasm becomes habitual, the more we cease to live forthrightly. Risk involves an authentic and vulnerable posture with others that sarcasm erodes.
How to break the habit…
Take a 360 inventory
Ask those who know you best, “What percentage of my speech is meaningful? Do you see sarcasm masking a deeper emotion?”
Be intentional with your speech
Try a “sarcasm free” week. Say what you mean. And mean to build-up rather than to tear-down.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” –Ephesians 4:29