[This article also exists in podcast form. You can listen to it on Pondering Purple, HERE.]

I’m sure you’ve experienced it too. That moment when you meet someone in a boringly predictable setting—like an office party—and she says, “This is the most fun I’ve had in my lifetime!” with that derisive intonation that really says, “This party is worse than falling off the Empire State Building and getting my eyelid caught on a nail.”

You absorb the double-entendre and stare squinty-brained at her, trying to assess if this is unintentional humor or the telltale sign that this stranger may be a soulmate.

If you’ve experienced this kind of quickening at the mere hint of sarcasm, there’s a very good chance you’re an MK.

I realize this may seem to be an odd topic to focus on, given the heft of some of the other subjects I’ve covered. But I believe that any trait that appears to be dominant in the subculture of MKs warrants some exploration and reflection—because traits that are so common as to be often overlooked, like any other trait, carry within them the potential for good and, if misunderstood or mismanaged, the potential for harm.

I’m not sure how sarcasmwhich Nick Moran calls “the ancient martial art of sarcasm”—became an MK trait.

I only know that for people like me, it feels a lot like home. Those statements made straight-faced that mean the opposite of what the words convey—no “JK” needed. Or cutting words uttered with a guileless smile and lilting voice.

Perhaps it’s the confusion of our languages and cultures that makes this verbal plane a simpler place to meet, a platform built across the gulf of our core differences.

Or maybe it’s the natural extension of a complicated existence that forces us to find the funny in the flummoxing in order to stay sane.

Or maybe it’s something else—a coping mechanism, born of necessity, that helps us to feel less dumb or out of place by finding humor in life’s most benign and taxing vagaries.

Whatever its source, sarcasm can soften the edges of our discomfort, dilute the acid of our disappointments, and soothe the ache of being different and unknown.

It also can identify us to each other, like a password spoken through a closed door, and unlock the full potential of a life-enhancing friendship.

We value this common propensity for tongue-in-cheek understatement, a secret handshake that seals us to another.

When judgers tell us it’s the lowest form of humor, we’re quick to point out how it may actually be superior, lauding sarcasm’s nuance in a world where dad jokes feel lazy and subtlety all but lost. Oscar Wilde agreed with this assessment. He wrote, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.”

For those of us who grew up with sarcasm as the soundtrack to our greatest joys and grievances, hearing it again—engaging in it again—feels familiar and somehow completing.

It’s a sixth Love Language we’ve learned to recognize and relish.

But we must not forget that, for others, it can come across as cynical and foreign. Washington Gladden says that “The arrows of sarcasm are barbed with contempt.” They aren’t always, but when they are, they can be deadly.

When I became a teacher (quite unintentionally!) over thirty years ago, I began to realize both the levity and liability inherent to sarcasm—a gift and a responsibility.

I saw my classroom fill each morning with younger versions of MK-me, and fell into sarcasm easily. It accelerated connection, bridging age and nationality.

But I discovered that it could also be a wounding thing when used to reprimand or judge. Even more so in combination with toxifying agents like disapproval or anger.

When calling a student to order, sarcasm became belittling.

When diffusing tension by making light of a situation, it added insult to already difficult contexts.

When trying to act friendly with someone I didn’t appreciate, it served only to accentuate the falseness of my words.

Mihir Balantrapu describes that last scenario in this way: “Sarcasm has a power. The power that comes from handing someone a gift-wrapped box containing a bomb.”

Over time, I learned to consider sarcasm as a condiment—not a staple—in the relationships I entered…a form of wit best used in measured applications until I was certain that it wouldn’t be misunderstood.

But to be honest, I’ve been less than perfect in managing my humor.

Just a couple weeks ago, a former student I loved during my time teaching at Black Forest Academy reached out to me to let me know she wanted to talk something through. It has been well over twenty years since she graduated, so I was a bit perplexed by the request.

What I discovered when we connected online was that I had flippantly used sarcastic humor to describe her in an informal gathering during her senior year of high school. What I had intended as lighthearted teasing and said in the presence of her peers had lodged in her spirit in a way that still reverberated all these years later.

How I wish I could go back and unsay the “funny” thing that had a whole lot more to do with me unwisely entertaining the troops than with considering the object of my sarcasm—and how it would land with her.

I can’t undo the harm, but I sure can relate some of what I’ve learned in recent years about wiser ways to wield this Love Language of ours, particularly in environments where sarcasm isn’t the norm and could easily be misunderstood.

Some of you might be wondering why this is such a big deal.

Why do we need to examine something that’s not intended to harm?

And what if the problem is over-sensitivity on the part of the recipient? If they misunderstand our words or take them too seriously, maybe they’re the ones who should be figuring out why they’re so thin-skinned!

Well, here’s one reason to exercise caution: Romans 13:10. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” that’s the Bible, folks. So I guess it would behoove us to heed the instruction!

Psychotherapist Sarah Swenson wrote, “Sarcasm derives from Greek words that mean ‘tearing of the flesh.’ It is hostility disguised as humor.

That’s a bit of a generalization, for sure. From experience, I can attest that sarcasm isn’t always, at its core, hostility. But I can also affirm that misused or abused, it can indeed “tear the flesh.” And that’s reason enough to be thoughtful in how we approach it, in order to protect both us and others from the pitfalls of reckless humor.

Clifford Lazarus may say it best: “I’m not saying all sarcasm is bad. It’s just better used sparingly—like a potent spice in cooking. Too much spice and the dish will be overwhelmed by it. Similarly, an occasional dash of sarcastic wit can spice up a chat. But a big or steady serving of it will overwhelm the emotional flavor of any conversation and taste bitter to its recipient.”

So as we learn to wield the art of sarcasm in a more healthy way, perhaps a good place to start would be considering intent.

Am I using sarcasm to entertain? Or as Brandon Sanderson puts it, “That is the sad, sorry, terrible thing about sarcasm. It’s really funny.”

Is it a self-defense mechanism when I’m feeling exposed or attacked? Fyodor Dostoevsky called sarcasm, “the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is intrusively invaded.”

Am I using sarcasm to elevate myself by cutting down others? Clifford Lazarus isn’t very tactful in his assessment of this type of sarcasm. “[It] is a subtle form of bullying, and most bullies are angry, insecure cowards.”

Or am I using sarcasm to get even, because I feel a bit of mild public humiliation may be warranted to put someone back in his or her place? But there may be a cost to that. Marian Shalander Kaiser wrote this of the dangers of sarcasm-as-revenge: “Sarcasm can be deadly not only to effective communication, but also to relationship.”

May I offer a few suggestions, as someone who found out the hard way that this sixth Love Language is anything but universal and may need some managing?

  1. Never use sarcasm as a means to attack or get even.
  2. Start with mild sarcasm, assess the response, and wade in deeper when you’re sure it’s being received as you intended.
  3. If at all possible, don’t use sarcasm against humans. If you must, target yourself, but avoid belittling others in an attempt at humor.
  4. With more or less neutral events, things, or concepts, have at it. Let your sarcastic freak flag fly! Make people laugh by exercising that typically MK muscle! And if you do feel led by the Holy Spirit to poke fun at an actual person (that “led by the Holy Spirit,” by the way, is sarcasm!), be as sure as you can be that that person is in a good place to receive it as you intend it. If you perceive weakness or insecurity in the subject of your sarcasm, maybe hold your fire—just in case.
  5. Reserve the most intense version of your sense of humor for those who have demonstrated a similar penchant. We all have that friend, right? The one we can go all the way to the edge with. Morgan Cutolo wrote: “Sarcasm exercises the brain, both for the person dishing it out and the people interpreting. So, you might want to make sure that you have at least one sarcastic friend, because they can help you become smarter.”
  6. If someone seems hurt or dismayed by your attempt to be funny—slam on the brakes and apologize quickly. A confident person is capable of acknowledging a verbal miscalculation.

Whether sarcasm is the highest or lowest form of self-expression is still up for discussion—and will likely always be. Am I advocating for eliminating this kind of humor altogether? Absolutely not! Making people laugh is good for the soul, and this world needs every Chandler Bing it can hold!

I’m merely suggesting that we wield this particular type of wit with a bit more thoughtfulness than we would use for, say, a butterknife. Because sarcasm can have sharp edges. And if we’re unsure of how it will be received, kindness is always the better and wiser choice.

Whatever you do, though, do not let your fluency in this MK love language atrophy! Sarcasm is such an MK trait, one I love and enjoy. We wield it well when we wield it with compassion. And that’s precisely what makes us the most amazing, envied, and adored people group in the whole—entire—universe. [Sarcasm intended.]


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