People brag about being sarcastic all the time. They place an “I’m really good at sarcasm” medal around their own necks and show it off like a badge of honor. But the truth about sarcasm is that it is nothing more than thinly and purposely veiled insult. Sarcastic people use it as a tool to say what they really want to say without actually saying it. They like to use sarcasm so that they are not held accountable for their words. It is a tool that is used to manipulate, belittle and shame another person. Then, when feelings are hurt, the remark is dismissed as “just kidding! Can’t you take a joke?” Like it or not, that is the real truth about sarcasm.Oxford online dictionary defines sarcasm as “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.” Mirriam-Webster defines it as “a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual,” and “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” The word sarcasm has its roots in the Greek word “sarkamos” which means “to tear flesh in rage; to sneer.”
Bring the attitude way down and also—be nice to people. Sarcasm truly is like a cancer eating away at the free and open communication and intimacy of any relationship, including marriage and it is not okay to use it to get your way in an argument. Can I be frank? If you cannot “win” an argument by presenting a reasoned case for your point and you must resort to sarcasm, then you very well may not have a valid argument in the first place. Listen, any two people living together will run into some troubles. They may be relatively small or they may be overwhelmingly huge problems. It does not really matter the severity of the trouble, you will not solve it with sarcastic, caustic remarks toward your spouse.
The damage of sarcasm. Sarcasm does a number of things none of which are actually beneficial.
• Sarcasm belittles. It shames the recipient into feeling stupid. Be honest—sarcasm is really an insult. God’s word tells us, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matt. 5:22 (ESV).
• Sarcasm divides. When you are in the midst of issuing sarcastic remarks, you are not thinking about how to come into agreement with your spouse. You may be trying to get your spouse to come into agreement with you by making them feel foolish, but there is no true reconciliation at the heart of sarcasm. Instead, it creates a greater divide. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 (ESV). We are also told in the scriptures, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matt. 5:23-24.
• Sarcasm controls. Sarcasm is a tool used to manipulate and bend another person to your will. If you can make another person feel foolish or stupid for his or her point of view then they have a hard time holding on to it—even when their point is perfectly valid. Perhaps your spouse is just not as adept at making cutting remarks as you so you find yourself winning a lot of arguments. Even if you get your spouse to agree via this method they are only agreeing in order to avoid further cut-downs. Nobody likes to feel stupid. And when we are made to feel stupid we will often concede the point since to hold on to it would further the feeling of stupidity. James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (ESV) If you are popping off witty sarcastic remarks, I doubt you are practicing the “slow to speak” principle.
• Sarcasm inflames. Sarcasm is fuel for the fire. It escalates an argument rather than resolves an issue. Prov. 15:1 tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Think back to our definition of sarcasm. It is meant to “convey contempt” and depends upon “bitter and caustic language” for its effect. “The power of life and death are in the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Prov. 18:21. This verse doesn’t actually tell us not to use the tongue, it simply lets us know that we will eat of the fruits of our words. Are you feeding yourself death or life with what you say?
• Sarcasm seeks revenge. There are really only two goals of sarcastic remarks. They are used to control or they are used to purposely insult in an act of revenge. The revenge may be for something your spouse did or said to hurt you. Perhaps you are perfectly justified in your hurt. Or you might just be ticked because your spouse won’t agree with you. But if you choose the path of caustic remarks to inflict pain upon your spouse, realize that you are contributing to a cycle of hurt that can spiral out of control. The enemy wants you both to add fuel to the fire and say worse and worse things to one another so that a divide between you can grow and grow until it is unbreachable. Every caustic remark, even when you have a right to be mad, places another brick in that wall. Jesus admonishes us in the book of Luke “forgive and you will be forgiven.” Once those words are out, you can never take them back. And they speak volumes. “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Your spouse will always know you were thinking that about him or her.
Sarcasm is more than just a joke. When you employ sarcasm in your relationships, whether you think of it as “joking” or whether you use it to cut people down to size to get your way understand that it simply a mask for insecurity. In the first case it is a form of self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. If you aren’t insecure, why do you need to show off how wittily you can cut another person down? Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In the second case, you are using sarcasm to control a situation and get your way. Needing to have your own way is a manifestation of insecurity. Letting another person be right or letting their way of doing things be good enough threatens your identity.
We are accountable for our words before the Lord. Jesus tells us, “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the Day of Judgement for every careless word they have spoken.” Matt. 12:36 (ESV-italics added). That is a sobering thought isn’t it? You may still be thinking, “Jeez—take a joke. It’s not that big a deal.” First, your words may be hurting someone more than you know. They might laugh at your sarcastic jokes, even the ones pointed towards them, but it very well could be a façade covering their real feelings. When you cut somebody down to size, you are cutting down a person made in the image of God and he clearly takes that very seriously.
Don’t worry, you can still tell a good joke! Sarcasm is only one form of humor. And the honest truth is, many people don’t actually mean sarcasm when they brag about being sarcastic. What they really mean is that they are facetiously witty. What many people call “sarcasm” would actually be classified as being facetious. Here’s a definition of facetious, “not meant to be taken seriously or literally: treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor.” It comes from a Latin word meaning “jest, witticism.” We can think of this form of humor as “sarcasm light.” We are a family that loves to laugh. We joke around and tease each other all the time. We are adept at a well-placed joke to lighten the tension. And I wouldn’t ever want to change that. Humor is, in fact, a key to a healthy and happy relationship. But humor at some else’s expense is not helpful, it’s harmful. Try removing sarcasm that is pointed at any other person from your arsenal for just one month. See if anything changes in your relationships. I think you will be surprised. And if you truly are the master of sarcasm and you simply must get it out of your system, make sure that you are the butt of your own jokes. People who can make a little fun of themselves are often the most well-liked people in the room anyway, so it’s a win-win. You can stretch your sarcastic legs and nobody gets hurt.