Youngsters frequently hear the wise maxim, “If you cannot say anything nice about a person, say nothing at all.” Because I could be a sarcastic little brat, at times, I was scolded with the phrase quite frequently. The result has been positive; I don’t think I use sarcasm very often.
I think that is one reason I have not cared for the Don Rickles type of comedian. In my opinion, that type of humor is more like a constant roast. It’s hard to tell if the sarcastic quips are “friendly” jabs, or are true insults. They just seem mean. Many other comedians understand that sarcasm, as an ingredient in humor, is like salt as an ingredient in cooking. A little bit goes a long way. A dish with too much salt is unpalatable.
Another reason I’m sensitive about sarcasm is because I’ve quite often been the target of the hurtful variety of sarcasm. Just because a mean-spirited comment is quickly followed up with, “That’s just a joke”, doesn’t mean it’s not an insult.
I’m not a total redneck about sarcasm, though. I understand and appreciate the usefulness of a very well-timed and well-placed lampoon. This appreciation is especially true when sarcasm is directed towards political and public figures who use scapegoating and smear tactics as tools to prop themselves up. People who set out to harm other people deserve every bit of sarcasm that comes their way.
Just as my young, bratty self was unskilled in the use of sarcasm, many people misunderstand and misuse sarcasm, in general. A statement may supposedly be intended as sarcastic but could be interpreted by the recipient as an unskillful insult. This may be true, because the statement was not meant to be a witty bon mot to begin with. If the sarcastic statement needs explanation to the intended target, it’s a sure bet that the statement was an insult. If feelings were hurt, the statement was an insult.
If we simply observe social interactions, we’ll notice that the lion’s share of sarcasm is directed at others. Meantime, self-deprecating sarcasm is less common. Even so, sarcasm that is directed towards oneself also comes in two general categories. Some self-deprecating remarks stem from low self-esteem and are thus self-harming insults. The other type of self-deprecating sarcasm springs from a healthy self-image. The second type of self-sarcasm does not make anybody uncomfortable. Skillful self-sarcasm can be a socially useful tool.
Because people so often use thinly veiled insults in the guise of sarcasm, any sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted. Excellent and successful use of sarcasm is exceedingly rare. Sarcasm is frequently received in unintentional ways. Unskillful use of sarcasm can result in hurt feelings and damaged interpersonal relationships. If a person peppers her speech with sarcastic remarks towards me, I’m not going to feel very positive towards her. Even if those remarks are directed, in a general manner, towards others, I feel more than a twinge of unease.
Because October is the home month of so many commemorations, October is sometimes sarcastically called the month of months. I’ve already written about “Eat Better, Eat Together Month”, “National Vegetarian Month”, and “LGBT History Month”. This post is about “Sarcastic Awareness Month”. If you’re the frequent target of your self-sarcastic insults, don’t take “Listen to Your Inner Critic Month” too seriously.
The point of “Sarcastic Awareness Month” is to recognize really good, skillfully created sarcasm and enjoy it. It’s also a cautionary time to understand that disrespectful remarks are not really sarcasm; they’re insults. To get along better in life, we all need this reminder.