Jay Rifenbary

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Sarcasm – Not an Alternative to Honest Discourse

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Sarcasm is defined as, “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt”, irony is defined as, “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite,” and contempt is defined as, “the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn”. Although sometimes humorous, sarcasm conveys to the person on the receiving end contempt, and the irony of the statement is a telling truth of what an individual sincerely believes about another. All of us have experienced the sting of sarcasm. On the surface we normally dismiss it as a little humor, but it can also be extremely hurtful. Literally, it is not the content of the statement but how the tone of the statement is expressed. Saying, “nice haircut” in a sarcastic manner is much more than the words themselves express. My intent in sharing this is to recommend that we monitor more closely the sarcasm we may express, and especially the sarcasm that our youth expresses to one another. The old saying, “if you have nothing positive to say about someone don’t say it”, is in need of being reinvigorated in our ever increasing verbally sniping society. When someone expresses sarcasm, it is a mirror to one’s own insecurities, and a self-destructive way to strengthen self-respect. How can any human being be happy with them self when their apparent joy is the result of being verbally destructive towards another person? Sarcasm can be hurtful to the recipient, but it diminishes the character and the self-respect of the individual delivering the sarcasm. I have also found it interesting how sarcastic individuals seem gleeful and feel clever after they shoot their sarcastic venom. It is never clever to demean another person for it is a self-poisoning attribute. In many respects, sarcasm has become a part of everyday existence, and is certainly perfected by comedians. David Letterman is the foremost example of the delivery of sarcastic humor, and it is arrogant and self-defeating. It can be in jest, but many times it is used as an underhanded subtle attack on others. Sarcasm is always at the expense of another person whether intentionally or unintentionally. What do we teach our children when we are an example of being sarcastic? It encourages a belief that sarcasm is an acceptable behavior, and supports the allusion that one talented in sarcasm possesses a positive attribute because it generates attention.

The pain of sarcasm is particularly destructive to developing relationships. The best example of this I have witnessed is the disrespect young men and women direct toward one another, specifically in the age range of junior and senior high school students. The effects of sarcasm are clearly felt by many young women, and men, and have a deleterious impact on one’s self-esteem development. It is not “cool” to be degrading through sarcasm. Embolden our children, and their friends, to take the high road by being respectful and not degrading. It will pay dividends in the long run and only generate greater individual leadership and peer respect.

In the process of conducting constructive discourse in an adult or business setting, there is no place for sarcasm. It distracts attention away from the discourse and redirects purposeful discussion to personal accusations and innuendos. I have also witnessed sarcasm being used when one side of a discussion is losing the dialogue, and their talking points become less effective and dominant. In many cases, sarcastic remarks are used as a defense mechanism to attempt to relinquish accountability for the potential negative outcome of the discourse. Inevitably this is a losing strategy personally and professionally. Finally, sarcasm is an attempt to substantiate superior intellect over others, and justify an elitist attitude. It may appear clever and humorous at the time it is used, but no one takes sarcasm as a serious indicator of an individual’s level of intelligence, integrity and character. It diminishes individual credibility, and negatively impacts how serious a person’s opinions are respected. Most importantly it deteriorates the amount of trust that is established. Inherently we do not trust those who are sarcastic towards others. Enjoy taking the high road and establishing an example that is respected by all.



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