WHY SARCASM DOES NOT MAKE YOU WITTY

“She’s so fat even a hippo would look slimmer than her.”

“I thought I was looking at a blackhole!”

“Dodos aren’t extinct. I’m looking at one.”

“Looks like the waiter went off to grow those coffee beans.”

And the quintessential Indian snark – “Arey kahan mar gaya?” (Where did you go off to?) Actually, nothing in the English language comes close to translating the anger, frustration and derision in this Hindi idiom that literally means ‘did you die or what’.

When we, at Candles Online, decided that this week would be dedicated to ‘Pour Out’, meaning thereby that we would get an opportunity to rant on anything that our hearts desired, I jumped at the opportunity of writing about Sarcasm and how we seem to confuse it with wit. Well of course, there is a fair bit of wit involved in making a sarcastic comment – you have to know the recipient, you have to select a thorny topic that irks them every time, or would irk anybody in a certain situation, and find a clever way to garb that in a jocular form so no one can call you a meanie on your face. That takes intelligence alright. No wonder sarcastic people are also liked so much because it requires ample presence of mind to make sarcasm work. So, to anybody sarcasm = intelligence. But I don’t see it that way, or don’t see it that way anymore. This article makes a case for why witty sarcasm does not make you intelligent.

All of us, at some point in our lives, have been guilty of using the highlighted statements above, or something similar to that. We may have also been at the receiving end of such statements. After all, it’s so satisfying to dole out smart and wicked barbs at others just for the pleasure of watching them cringe or suffer. Right? But when you were at the receiving end of such barbs, did you ever notice the feelings it generated in you, even if it came from a friend? Did you not feel insulted, ridiculed, angry and disgusted, even if it was only for a fraction of a second? Would you want to feel that way? I don’t think I’ve ever come across a person who likes to feel that way, forever or even just once. Then why do we like to incite such feelings in others, when we ourselves would not like to feel that way?

No, no, don’t try to defend your statements. Don’t try to tell me ‘that person deserved it’ or that ‘it was meant as a joke’.

Sarcasm is never, I repeat, NEVER, a positive thing. Even if it is deserved, or meant as a joke, there is an element of derision present in it. Which is why I said, ‘guilty’ at the start of the paragraph above because it is a guilty pleasure that is purely born out of our contempt for someone or a situation.

Being at both the making and receiving end of sarcasm has taught me just one thing – it’s never welcome. I have been one of those people who would make unwarranted sarcastic comments on people only to watch them cringe, or to look smart. I’ve done that even to friends and at the time I used to think that it was cool, that it showed how intelligent I was. Only when I lost a lot of friends owing to my sarcasm did I learn that it just wasn’t worth it. But by then it was too late. There are some of my acquaintances who I’ve met recently and who were unaware of my changed behaviour, they still dislike me because of how I used to make fun of them. And now it hurts!

But I’ve noticed that it’s become a trend these days to not only make sarcastic comments but encourage them too. While I was at school, it used to be considered cool to say ‘Excused!’ in reply to ‘Excuse me‘, or if someone is clumsy, then remark ‘he was born with a hole in his hand‘ or when you bumped into someone, ‘do you have eyes or buttons’. Even when I joined college, it was not only the same, it was happening even more. Maybe I’d always been this sensitive but it always came as a shock to me how someone could be so blatantly contemptible to others, even to their own friends. Maybe that was the reason why I became that way as well, because I saw it happening around me all the time, but I shouldn’t make excuses for the way I behaved. Watch any television show, especially comedies, and you’ll come across characters like Dr. House who makes blood-boiling sarcastic comments. Yes, we love him but that’s because we are not at the receiving end of those comments, unlike his poor co-workers.

So, we know that sarcasm is not a good thing. But how do I prove that sarcasm does not make you intelligent? I’ll give you an example from my life.

A few weeks ago, while I was dining with some friends, I heard someone in my know remark, “I think she’s gone off to Darjeeling to pluck the tea leaves”, to her boyfriend, about a waitress. This was followed by pointless tittering from both she and her boyfriend, who I could see, liked the way his girlfriend made such ‘smart’ comments (trust me, I know this person very well and she LOVES to make sarcastic comments ALL THE TIME). This incident was the reason why I started to think about why we are encouraging sarcasm so much in our society. It’s a nuisance, admittedly, but its encouraged because it gives us pleasure to inflict pain on others. That sort of behaviour is called sadism. Why are we garbing it as intelligence? Why are we encouraging behaviour that inculcates tolerance to sarcasm? Intelligence does not lie in making fun of someone, especially when that someone is in a position where they cannot answer back. Like the waitress in the above case, or a daughter or son in law, or an employee or servant. If you make a sarcastic comment on people who have the better sense to not answer back, and you know that they can’t answer back, then who is the more intelligent of the two?

Real intelligence lies in knowing when to shut up and when to just ignore a person, even when he deserves sarcasm from you.

So if your friend drops something for the thousandth time, now I think it’s better to just walk away rather than say something sarcastic and hurt our relationship. If you have never known just how much more satisfying it is to just walk away from a sarcastic person, rather than getting down to their ugly level, then I urge you, please try it. It’s difficult at first, but ultimately every bully will learn that his barbs are not working on you. But the main reason why you should not be making sarcastic comments is because it hurts someone and because you would not want to hurt that way. 

I hope that I have convinced you, dear readers, that sarcasm is not a witty thing, it is the opposite of it. It may give you a moment’s pleasure, but in the long run, the real loser is you. I know all of us get tempted to succumb to that sweet pleasure, and maybe every now and then someone may deserve it too, but please don’t make it a habit. You never know when you may be at the receiving end.

 

TEMPTED TO TAUNT

We’ve all known that nosy kid in school who loved to tease and taunt us for having a broken shoe, or funny hair, or being on the heavier side. Yes, we all hated him. Many of us have also know adults who taunt out of habit, maybe not because they mean harm, but because taunting is a part of their behavior now. If you are one of them, this post is especially for you!

Two days back I was at a friend’s son’s Birthday party.  She stays with her in-laws and her parents were going to come to the event as well. Both sets of parents are generally very kind-hearted and good-natured people. But occasionally there comes an awkward statement or two.

So this Friend’s parents arrived, and the moment they came, they sought to meet with my Friend’s In-laws, who greeted them warmly and asked after their health. All was hunky-dory up until the moment the MIL said to my Friend’s Mother,

‘Isn’t this the same sari you wore to our Gudi Padhwa function? I thought today you’ll wear something different…’

Okay, so awkward moment right there. Everyone ignored it. The poor Mother said something like it’s my favorite and changed tactics by complimenting the MIL’s sari.

But throughout the evening, the MIL was heard taunting someone or the other –

What a beautiful neck-piece! (Thanks from the Mother and a beatific smile spread on her face) But how clever of you not to gift this to X (my Friend)? Keeping all the good stuff to yourself, eh? (She jokingly patted her Samdhan’s arm)

The rest of the evening my Friend’s Mother wore a sombre look, and later I heard the MIL ask my Friend what had happened to her mother. Really?

Oh, you guys are eating this (my Friend was eating a plate of pani-puri with me)? You shouldn’t! Look how heavy you two are. When I was your age, my waist was still as slim as ever, even after two kids.

My poor friend immediately stopped eating and I felt guilty hogging it all by myself.

O Pradita, you’re a sweetheart. Thank you for gifting him (my Friend’s Son) these books, even though….he has so many already (made faces while she turned away from me but I still saw it, at which point I told my Friend that I had no intention of being anywhere near her MIL for the rest of the evening).

After having caused so much drama, I was told by my friend later (I had already left the party by then) that as her parents were leaving, the MIL was overheard apologizing profusely to my Friend’s Mother for her bad behavior. Thank God, good sense prevailed!

So as you can see, in some cases, the MIL didn’t really mean to hurt her audience. She was just making observations and airing her thoughts. In one case at least, I think she meant us good by asking us not to binge. She even apologized later for her conduct. So the realization was there that she had done wrong, but she wasn’t able to control the temptation to taunt.

Such people are the kind who are always tempted to make a comment or other gesture to tease or upset those around them, even if they mean it only as a joke, or as a harmless thing. They do this because it’s become a part of their nature. It helps them exert their power or influence over others, or because they have an inherent insecurity that they want to hide by deflecting attention to someone else’s flaws. Their urge to make a point or have themselves heard is strong, and they give in to it each time, only to look like fools, and maybe even apologize later.

You may not be one of them, or you may be doing it unknowingly, without meaning any harm to anyone, but as tempting as it sounds, as fun as it may look, do not give in to the temptation of teasing people habitually! An occasional banter is alright between friends and family, but know your limits. 

Why am ‘I’ saying this to you? What right do ‘I’ have to preach on this topic?

Because I’ve done it in the past.

Throughout college I was known as a motor-mouth, who would taunt, tease and humiliate others just for the fun of it. I wasn’t always like this though. And to be sure I’ve been bullied a lot too. But in college I decided to be a bully!

Much later I realized that I did this to hide my own insecurities, because I felt alone, the odd man out or just clumsy sometimes, but that wasn’t any excuse for the way I behaved. Of course, it came at a huge cost. I was rewarded by a loss of friends and trust. It hurt to see so many of my friends walk away from me because I made an unchecked remark on their attire, their behavior or their choices. Things that I could have easily avoided… but didn’t!

So what should you do when the temptation to taunt strikes? Here are some pointers for you –

  1. Resist – That’s the only, sure-shot way to overcome this temptation. With other kinds of temptations maybe you can avoid the source of temptation, but with this you cannot because the source is mostly within your social circle. You can’t avoid that!
  2. Check your Speech and Tone – Often taunters have a peculiar way of saying things, like a ‘taunting voice’. You know when it’s bubbling over your tongue to spew forth. The moment it happens, hold your tongue, shut your mouth, and mull over the words you’re going to say. Do they sound caustic, sharp, teasing? Ask yourself how would you feel if someone said this to you. Ask yourself why you need to make that comment at all. It’ll give you a chance to calm yourself down  and besides, chances are, that by the time you’re done with this internal tête-à-tête, your urge to taunt would have evaporated. Problem solved!
  3. Ignore – So you see someone ill-dressed and you want to tell them it does not suit them at all? Who died and made you King? Unless you see someone doing themselves great harm, ignore the source, keep your comments and suggestions to yourself, and let someone else do the pointing out.
  4. Rephrase – Okay, so you have to make that comment. Rehash it in your head, and then reword it. Ensure that it sounds like a suggestion or a compliment, not as a taunt.
  5. Apologize – So you gave in and taunted someone?! Apologize… ASAP, if you don’t want to lose your friends or family. An apology will not belittle you, it’ll only show the strength of your character. Never let an unchecked comment go without repairing the harm you’ve caused. It’ll always come back and bite you in the a*%!

I hope you’re not one to taunt, but if you are, then I really hope you take these pointers and help yourself resist the temptation. Not all temptations are bad, but this one only ensures that you become an unwelcome person in your circle. So, unless you plan to be a hermit and live in social isolation, repeat this mantra whenever you’re tempted to taunt,

Thou shalt not taunt,

Thou shalt not tease.

Thou shalt not say anything,

That does not the heart please. 

Pradita Kapahi

thepraditachronicles.com