I hate sarcasm. It's rude, hurtful, and offensive. Yet I have met many people who insist that it is humorous. "Sarcasm can be funny, " my friend John told me. "I beg to differ", I replied. "There is nothing funny about saying something hurtful to another person." "Yes, but...", he continued, "you can make fun of them and as long as it's done in good taste it's not insulting." We debated the issue for a few minutes and then put it to rest. Clearly, he was of the mindset that there was nothing wrong with sarcasm.
However, there are distinct disparities between the two. Look up both words in the dictionary: sarcasm comes from the Greek word "sarcazmos", which literally means "to tear ones flesh". That's a pretty violent description. Other terms used to define sarcasm are "sharp, satirical utterances designed to cut or give pain; bitter, caustic language directed against an individual." Tear, cut, pain, bitter, caustic: are any of these words indicative of humor?
The definition of humor, on the other hand, uses such terms as "funny quality; elicits amusement and laughter; designed to make others laugh, smile or chuckle." Quite a contrast, don't you agree?
Sarcasm is actually a form of passive/aggressive anger. It is designed to hurt the intended party, to embarrass or humiliate them, to make them feel uncomfortable. Covert and underhanded, it is used to disguise anger and alleviate any responsibility should the other party take personal offense. "I was just kidding! Everyone else laughed. You are just too sensitive." Blame: an alternative for ownership of bad behavior.
Sarcasm reveals a lot about the person dishing it out. People who are kind, sensitive, respectful, thoughtful, and confident do not resort to such cowardly behavior. If they have something unflattering to say to the other person they do so in a direct and polite manner. Calling your child a nickname that they do not like and telling them they are too sensitive when they get angry with you is passive/aggressive. Making a joke about your husband's balding head, knowing he is sensitive about his receding hairline, is hurtful. Calling your boss a "know-it-all" ("Well, how could you be wrong? You surely know everything there is to know about running this company!") cannot be negated by a lame "I meant that in the most flattering way possible."
Humor is truly lighthearted and careful not to offend the other party. My husband and I use humor with each other all the time. We can tease one another in a very playful manner, designed to make them laugh (like the time I left a pot of boiling water on the stove and forgot to add the rice, scorching and blistering my favorite saucepan). He knows I am not the least bit sensitive or embarrassed by my sheer stupidity and he has free reign to use it as an opportunity to make me and any other family member laugh.
Humor can alleviate stress, diffuse anger, relieve sadness, and bring people together. It releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical, in the brain and actually boosts the body's natural immune system. There are never any underlying or sinister intentions behind the action and there is no pain or offense on the receiver's end. Webster uses words like funny, playful, amusement, smile, and chuckle in defining true humor.
In discerning whether or not your teasing is actual humor or sarcasm, check your motives and intent. Are you truly being playful or on some level do you hope that the dig you are throwing at the other party hurts? Motive and intent are key.
There is one exception to using humor that I must caution you about: never ever use vitreous humor. It can be very dangerous and do some serious damage. Oh wait - isn't that the gel that fills the space between the lens and retina of the eye? Ok, never mind. It's safe. (That's a little humor - did I make you laugh? No? Too little wit, I'm guessing.) So sue me. I'll take it to the Court of A(banana)peels. :-)
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Janet Pfeiffer, international inspirational speaker and award-winning author has appeared on CNN, Lifetime, ABC News, The 700 Club, NBC News, Fox News, The Harvest Show, Celebration, TruTV and many others. She’s been a guest on over 100 top radio shows (including Fox News Radio), is a contributor to Ebru Today TV and hosts her own radio show, Anger 911, on www.Anger911.net.
Janet's spoken at the United Nations, Notre Dame University, was a keynote speaker for the YWCA National Week Without Violence Campaign, and is a past board member for the World Addiction Foundation.
She's a former columnist for the Daily Record and contributing writer to Woman’s World Magazine, Living Solo, Prime Woman Magazine, and N.J. Family. Her name has appeared in print more than 100 million times, including The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Alaska Business Monthly and more than 50 other publications.
A consultant to corporations including AT&T, U.S. Army, U.S. Postal Service, and Hoffman-LaRoche, Janet is N.J. State certified in domestic violence, an instructor at a battered women's shelter, and founder of The Antidote to Anger Group. She specializes in healing anger and conflict and creating inner peace and writes a weekly blog and bi-monthly newsletter.
Janet has authored 8 books, including the highly acclaimed The Secret Side of Anger (endorsed by NY Times bestselling author, Dr. Bernie Siegel).
Read what Marci Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author, says of Janet's latest book, The Great Truth; Shattering Life's Most Insidious Lies That Sabotage Your Happiness Along With the Revelation of Life's Sole Purpose:
"Janet dispels the lies and misconceptions many people have lived by and outlines a practical path to an extraordinary life beyond suffering. Written with honesty, clarity, sincerity, and humor, this book serves as a wonderful guide for anyone seeking a more enriching and fulfilling life.”
Dr. Bernie Siegel says, "All books of wisdom are meant to be read more than once. The Great Truth is one such book."