Giving Up Sarcasm

Last Wednesday, there was a conversation in our house that went something like this:

Me: Man, this giving up sarcasm for Lent thing is going to be harder than I thought.

Gretchen: What?! You’re not doing that!

Me: Well, I’m going to try.

Gretchen: How are you going to talk?

Like I said, it may be harder than I thought.

Sarcasm has almost become the national language, it seems. Late-night talk shows, Facebook, even interviews with elected officials seem to abound with sarcasm and snark. I was quite a devotee of the stuff myself; once, in response to a survey question “Do you use sarcasm?”, I responded with “Does a fish use water?”

I’m pretty much over my love affair with sarcasm, though. Kind of like an average temperate drinker waking up after a hardcore bender, the very thought of sarcasm now kinda turns my stomach. This is not to say that my Lenten sarcasm fast has gone perfectly; old habits die hard. But more and more I find that I don’t want to use sarcasm, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time interacting with people who do. I’ve been reflecting on this phenomenon for a couple of days, and I think I’ve identified a few reasons why:

  1. Sarcasm is rooted in arrogance and/or insecurity. If I give you a sarcastic response, I’m not just being funny; I’m being funny in a way that implies that I’m smarter than or otherwise superior to you. I’m also keeping you at a distance, which is a great way to hide any insecurities I might have, but a crappy way to develop rich, deep, intimate relationships with other human beings. I find that my conscience just doesn’t do well with me being disrespectful in that way anymore.
  2. Sarcasm tends to shut down communication, either by ending the conversation or turning it into an argument. Drs. Anita Simon and Yvonne Agazarian, developers of the System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction, identify sarcasm as “red-light behavior” because it stops the flow of information. It becomes a barrier to real interaction with one another. Sarcasm closes more doors than it opens, even when I’m talking with someone who agrees with my assessment of the object of my sarcasm.
  3. On a very practical level, sarcasm tends to get me in trouble. Thinking back over the last month, I realized that most of the apologies I needed to make resulted from a sarcastic comment that I made. Those apologies probably start to sound pretty hollow if I keep going with the same behavior the very next day.
  4. Most of all, I note that lately sarcasm just doesn’t feel good. Even when it’s a great zinger that I and everyone else in the conversation finds funny, afterwards I just feel kinda blech. And I find this to be the case whether I am using the sarcasm or someone else is.

Many of us learned the Golden Rule as children: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” About a year and a half ago, a wise old hospital chaplain and pastor taught me a better one, one that he calls the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” For me, that Platinum Rule means talking to, and about, others with at least respect, if not love. And that’s why I’m going on the snark-wagon. I still fall off now and then, but I do find that the more I avoid sarcasm, the better I feel and the richer my interactions with others are.

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