I’ve had a few recent encounters with people who have demonstrated a form of behavior that I find vexing, caustic and very revealing. That behavior is sarcasm, and it’s an ugly trait that should be avoided in others, and in ourselves.
I say this, because contrary to popular belief, sarcasm isn’t just witty humor, or a sign of intelligence or mere kidding around at another’s expense. I am not referring here to good-natured jocularity. Rather, I am referring to the actual nature of sarcasm, which is a form of hostility toward others and to oneself that’s merely disguised as humor.
Perhaps we can understand this better by first understanding that the origin of the word “sarcasm” derives from Greek words that mean “tearing of the flesh.” So, when we describe someone as having a “biting” sense of humor, it refers to the “tearing of the flesh” that takes place when someone wants to hurt another person.
Let’s take a look at this in terms of a real-world example. Now, this example comes directly from a friend of mine, and I was granted his permission to use it for this article (no names need be mentioned). Here’s what took place between husband and wife.
The couple was about to go to Disneyland, and the wife asked if the husband knew the right roads to take. The man said he did, as he remembered the route from the last time he was there.
After a few wrong turns and some confusing road restrictions due to construction, the couple found themselves off track and somewhat lost. The husband then said, “I thought I knew the right way, but somewhere we made a wrong turn.” The wife, and here is the sarcasm part, then said in a mocking tone, “Wow, I always knew you had a great sense of direction.”
Now, at first glance, you may not think this is a big deal. But it is a big deal, and I will tell you why.
The husband had admitted that he was wrong about the route and made a mistake (a quite common one at that). Yet, rather than try to help the situation by using the GPS on her phone to find a new route or to tell him that it was going to be ok, the wife took the opportunity to tear at the flesh by insulting the man’s acumen at navigating life.
I wonder how many other not-so-subtle sarcastic remarks this woman has made to this man over the years, remarks that have eroded their love and friendship little by little, like a leaky pipe that allows water to slowly seep into the walls, building up mold until the levels become toxic. Indeed, the fact that my friend told me about this episode when I asked him how things were going tells you right there that this is not just some harmless form of kidding.
Yet, for those who wear their sarcasm as a badge of honor, or who hoist their sarcasm flag up the pole as some sort of virtue to the world, they can always just hide behind the bromide, “I was only kidding” when they’re challenged on their behavior.
Most of the time, however, the sarcastic person claiming they were only kidding is the one who is kidding themselves. The truth is that kidding with the intent to tear the flesh is hurtful, petty, cowardly and passive aggressive. I say “cowardly,” because if the sarcastic person had any guts, they would just come right out and tell the other person what they think is the problem.
To this I say, don’t abide sarcasm — not in others, and especially not in yourself.
Like nearly everyone, I have been guilty of this fault many times. Yet, every time I’ve reflected on my bouts of sarcasm, I’ve become a little less valorous in my own eyes.
If, after your own reflection, you find that your personality tends toward sarcasm, ask yourself why. What are you trying to convey to others or the world? If you are trying to show the world you have an intelligent sense of humor, then perhaps you can do so in another fashion, one that is humorous but isn’t carried out by tearing at another’s flesh.
Of course, if you just want the world to think you are a witty jerk, then that’s probably what the world thinks of you anyway. And hey, good luck with that.
Finally, remember that sarcasm is intended to be a little dig on another. And when it comes to relationships, repeated little digs will inevitably become big holes.
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
The concept of “wasting time” is a pet peeve of mine, and it’s become especially so the more trips around the sun I take. Think about it. The older you get, the closer you are to no longer being. And if you value the only life that we know we have, why would you waste a single minute of it?
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,