Sarcasm as Communication

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

August 7, 2011

Let's Talk About Feelings

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Jane said, “Oh, he’s gone too?”

I confirmed that his contract was up. It was only a year, and this was day four of my former colleague‘s absence.

She said, “But, I really enjoyed giving him a hard time.”

“Yes,” I concurred.

He was fun giving a hard time to. He gave and received well. He was very proficient in sarcasm. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t rude.

Some time ago, a friend changed his opinion on the use of sarcasm, we’ll call him Bob. I often go back to my conversation  with Bob where we discussed sarcasm’s falsehood. Bob argued that sarcasm was just a euphemism for real feelings, and that we would get farther in life if we expressed those feelings, those emotions, instead of by way of sarcasm.

But, sarcasm is fun. It’s not always a euphametic way to cover up our feelings of hurt, anger, or loneliness. Sometimes we tease people because we love them. Sometimes we tease without any mean spiritedness, and we laugh. And when we laugh we release endorphins making our brains think we are happy. So, Bob, in his effort to make positive change was actually quite short sighted.

I’ve written before about sarcasm as a teaching tool, how we use it with peers to say, “I don’t like that!” when we don’t have the courage or confidence to say, “I don’t like that!” I am beginning to think that this is what all those high school girl conversations were about… how to interact with said boy about said crush when we don’t really know what he feels. We were too afraid to bare it all in those tender high school years, so we would use jokes or polite humor to see if we had an “in.”

I see adults use the same skills when they want to say, “I don’t like it!” and not so much, “I do like it!” Now, though, I’ve gotten tired of those games. If Bob was really addressing those games that sarcasm covers up, then yes he has a point. This type of sarcasm is a communication tool that operates out of mistrust.

First, thanks to The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, I define trust as being able to believe in someone’s intentions. Let’s not make mention of whether those intentions are good or bad — but simply trusting that someone’s judgments and decisions are based on intentions. Most people define trust as predictability of actions.

Someone vented to me they were told they couldn’t be trusted because her colleagues couldn’t trust what she said. Her colleagues wanted scripted, predictable responses. Scripted, predictable responses weren’t natural to my friend, so she would more often than not find herself floundering, feeling insecure, and not performing her best. Her colleagues weren’t willing to trust her intentions, not to mention they operated under this misdefintion of trust. Sarcasm in this euphametic sense, was rampant.

I have been more self aware of growing up processes now that I am in my 30s and a parent. I am watching Levi learn to get along with others at every play date we attend. I encourage him to use his words and ask nicely for what he wants. I tell him to step back when he interferes in a playmate’s boundaries. Having this recognition of my own boundaries, and the permission to enforce them, I want to teach Levi to do the same. It’s okay and accepted to say no. It’s okay to tell someone when you don’t like something. It’s okay to not like something. You don’t have to do it just because the alpha person suggests you should. You can say no and you can act on it.

When we take ownership of our feelings, our needs, and turn them into honest requests then sarcasm just becomes another funny moment in an otherwise bleak existence. We have so much burdening us on our daily lives, why not make it more fun? Cheers to all those who recognize their own wit and use it, daily.

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