A woman had once invited the famous movie director, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, home for dinner. She had put in a lot of effort into planning the menu but somehow Hitchcock was upset that the portions being served were rather small and he was left hungry. As the evening ended, the woman bid Hitchcock farewell, “I hope you will dine with us again soon,” she said. “By all means, let’s start now,” replied Hitchcock, dripping sarcasm. The incident surely made it to the pages of his biography, but it also left behind a deeply disappointed… and embarrassed hostess. If only Hitchcock had simply praised the food and asked for a second helping, it would have made her day. But he chose sarcasm. A lot of us do the same in life. It is mean. It hurts.
Now, before you get all defensive and try to brand it witty, and necessary, in situations (I got a lot of that for last week’s column from the Sulkers Anonymous), let me tell you that sarcasm is not the same as irony, flip or satire. And, after anger, it is perhaps one of the most common stress inducers.
Webster’s Dictionary reveals that the word ‘sarcasm’ is derived from the Greek sarkazein, meaning to ‘tear flesh like dogs’. And in fact, that’s how it feels to be at the receiving end of biting sarcasm from habitual offenders who often try to pass it off as humour. ‘I didn’t mean it. I was just joking,’ is the easiest excuse in the world to hide behind, after your caustic words have hurt someone.
A friend of mine who can’t stand her boyfriend turning up late whenever they meet up for a date in a restaurant, is habitual of saying things like, ‘Thanks for giving me the pleasure of waiting for you. I might as well have dated the waiter while I sat here.’ “Why can’t she ever talk straight, even if it is to say that she’s upset with me?” her boyfriend asked me once, obviously frustrated. Well, talk straight is what I recommend, for peace of mind...that of yours and all those who like dishing out sarcasm, be it your lover, colleague, boss or a friend. And of course, the infamous mother-in-law!
Here are my calmness tips to deal with words that bite and leave a scar.
By all means, express your resentment if you have a problem with someone close to you, but make sure your sentences start with ‘I feel that…” or “I think that…” or “I want you to understand that…” rather than “You always…” or “Why don’t you ever…” or “If you would just…". Don’t forget that it is ‘your’ problem you’re trying to express. The moment you use sarcasm, you force the other person in a defensive posture than a receptive one. Trust me, never helps.
Know that not all sarcasm comes with a malicious intention to hurt. Some of it, does come with the speaker’s genuine attempt at trying to be funny. Judge the difference and if it is indeed harmless, join the fun with a witty retort of your own.
Ignore the words and sift the substance. You need not respond to everything thrown your way. Sarcasm is a weapon that hurts only if you pick it up and decide to stab yourself with it. Simply walk away from an unpleasant person saying, ‘We’ll get back to this when you’ll be in a mood to talk straight.’
Act Stupid. Yeah, you heard me right. Sarcastic comments are said in words that literally mean the opposite of what the speaker intends to convey. React to them at face value and watch the fun. If a colleague says, ‘Oh, here comes the most brainy guy in office,’ reply, ‘Oh thank you. I didn’t know I had fans at work’. Nothing annoys the sarcastic souls to see their attempt to hurt go waste in front of their eyes.
Confront. If someone’s crossing the line, ask them what their problem is. Tell them it takes far more courage to do plainspeak than it takes wit to be all sarcastic. Ask them what happened to their courage.
Sonal Kalra stays miles away from sarcasm. By the way, she loves the readers of this column. After all, there’s something inherently lovable about a bunch of stressed-out losers who have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning. Oops.