Live Well: Words Do Hurt

Sarcasm is like cheap wine – it leaves a terrible aftertaste ~ Dana Perino. Words really can hurt, just as sticks and stones can break bones…contrary to the children’s rhyme heard in childhood. One way that words hurt is those spoken with sarcasm and cloaked as humor. Though the stated intent is a stab at humor, the real intent is often to wound, criticize or embarrass. Choosing an indirect way to express negativity, the sender avoids a more direct and honest way of communicating their true feelings.  Should the receiver interpret the sender’s sarcasm as hurtful or mean spirited, the sender often replies: It was just a joke…can’t you take a joke?
 The word sarcasm has its origins from late Greek word sarkazein, whose meaning is tear flesh, gnash teeth, speak bitterly. Viewed in this light, sarcasm and sarcastic humor are not quite as harmless as one might think and do not fit into open, honest communication. Those who habitually use sarcastic humor lack courage to say what is really on their mind. Enough of these little barbs and relationships can be destroyed. Sarcasm is mean, cynical and reinforces negative thinking. It can also be the hallmark of a bully whose use of sarcasm can be a form of aggression and abuse.
So, how does one stop being sarcastic?  It begins with recognizing sarcasm and being aware when one is using it or it is being used by another. Pay attention to how you feel when sarcasm or sarcastic humor is directed your way; also, watch how others receive sarcasm directed at them. Watch facial expressions and body language, who laughed, who responded with anger and who turned away? You can also ask for honest feedback about your sarcasm from close friends and family members. If you are the sender or user of sarcastic humor, ask yourself if your words hurt or helped another? Were they in keeping with the kind of person you strive to be? Did you have a hidden agenda, something else you really wanted to say?
Without accepting responsibility for our words, not much will change. Therefore, change requires decision to change and developing an action plan. As previously noted, be aware, self-correct, think before speaking and engage others in the change effort by asking for honest feedback. Practice saying what you mean and meaning what you say. A favorite technique is wearing a rubber band around the wrist and giving it a ping whenever there is an incident. Like most things, change requires effort and time, but it is possible with commitment.  In childhood, we also learned: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.