Irony and sarcasm are forms of communication in which the literal meaning of the words is different, often opposite, from the intended message. In both irony and sarcasm, there may be an element of criticism and humor. However, sarcasm is a particular type of irony in which the underlying message is normally meant to ridicule, tease, or criticize. Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart
I enjoy being funny. When we make others laugh it can feel joyful and the ego gets a bump. Yet my primary motivation in relating to others is to be kind. Often humor at another’s expense can be unkind, even cruel. This is often accomplished with sarcasm. According to Oscar Wilde, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.” Brené Brown asks, “Are you dressing something up in humor that actually requires clarity and honesty?”
I first practiced sarcasm as a defense against an older brother who was physically bullying at times when we were young. Of course, spewing mean words that put down the enemy doesn’t necessarily make up for receiving sticks and stones, but it was the best tool I had in my arsenal since I didn’t like hitting anyone, even my brother. It’s not unusual for a first-born to think “things were just fine until they brought that other baby home,” especially if there’s a short time between births. Sibling rivalry is an interesting phenomenon rife with opportunities for sarcasm.
I noticed a puzzled reaction from my 3-year-old grandson once when my husband said something sarcastic such as, “Gee, you don’t have any toys, do you?” Clearly, what my grandson was hearing wasn’t true and he seemed confused. He hadn’t been exposed to that kind of teasing and couldn’t perceive my husband’s motive to be funny.
Some April Fools’ jokes have caused misunderstanding, confusion, and embarrassment for the target of the joke. Often, I may not be clear that a remark is sarcastic and find myself asking.”Really? Or are you kidding?”
In the section titled Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged (Science of Mind, page 433), Ernest Holmes reminds us “…life must return to us the manifestation of our motives, thoughts, and desires – whether these motives, thoughts and desires were intended for ourselves or others. It means that the thought of judgment, criticism and condemnation must, in time, operate against the one who sets it in motion!” A good reason to be careful in what we put out verbally.
I think of Henny Youngman with his “Take my wife, please.” Making his wife the butt of his jokes entertained a lot of people and made him a lot of money. I believe this form of comedy can be offensive. A broad category of offensive jokes includes sexist, racist, and ethnic jokes along with jokes about sexual orientation, disability, nationality, profession, and other human traits.
Sometimes we are quick-witted and say something sarcastic or insensitive without first thinking it through. Making amends is sometimes called for. I believe that sarcasm can be an example of a passive aggressive attack and too often we think saying “I was just kidding” will excuse our lack of compassion. Sarcasm can be displayed in varying personal encounters from the boardroom to the cheerleading squad especially where there is competition.
I hope to avoid sarcasm but still enjoy humor and laughter. As Ann Lamott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” To me the solution is recognizing that we are one with the Divine; that Source supports and guides us through any change or perceived difficulty; that love and compassion are our answer when dealing with our fellows. One of the Four Agreements, as written by don Miguel Ruiz is to “take nothing personally.” When we take the risk to live our ultimate truth, we don’t need anyone else’s validation. Kindness should be our primary intention in communicating with others.