One of my pet peeves is the extensive use of sarcasm, either on-line or in personal interactions.
As a scarred veteran of the Mormon blogs, I long ago lost count of how many times I would spend hours on a post and receive a snarky sarcastic response in reply from various commenters.
And it seems that the people I have the biggest difficulty getting along with in person are also people who tend to be the kings and queens of sarcasm.
Now let’s be clear the sarcasm has been a staple of social interactions throughout time. Shakespeare used sarcasm and many early American commenters were expert in the art. H.L. Mencken made a living out of it for decades.
My problem is that many people seem incapable of reasoned discussion. If they disagree, they immediately resort to a burst of sarcasm, which is intended to show their opposition without actually showing any respect to the person with whom they disagree. If somebody has written or said something that creates an actual argument, you should take the time, if you disagree, to explain why in clear, respectful terms.
My personal opinion is that this new sarcasm is the result of the comedians and pundits of our time, who seem to dominate opinion-making. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert use sarcasm about 95 percent of the time, and while I admit they are often funny I don’t really like their effect on the culture. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, I would like to point out that Glenn Beck’s radio show is filled with sarcastic, snide comments (and the sarcasm is not nearly as funny as Stewart and Colbert).
So imagine my joy at picking up the August 2013 issue of the Ensign and finding the article “No Corrupt Communication.”
I would like to quote liberally from this article. I hope Glenn Beck reads it.
The Greek root for sarcasm is sarkazein and means “to tear flesh like dogs.”1 One dictionary defines sarcasm as irony designed to “give pain.”2 Sarcasm has many uses in our communication: it can convey aggression and insult,3 it can be used to dominate others,4 and it can communicate contempt and anger.5 Not all sarcasm is intentionally sinister, but it has a hypocritical edge because it requires us to say the opposite of what we mean. Some use it for humor, but it often damages our relationships because it leaves our friends and family doubting our sincerity and confused by what we say.
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) identified the damage that sarcasm inflicts on our relationships:
“Everywhere is heard the snide remark, the sarcastic gibe, the cutting down of associates. Sadly, these are too often the essence of our conversation. In our homes, wives weep and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by husbands and fathers. Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes a catalyst that leads to failure. …
“I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.”6
The Apostle Paul taught similar principles to the Ephesians: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). According to this scripture, all our communication should uplift others and strengthen them in the Lord.
Then there is this:
Recent Internet trends have shown that cyberbullying—the use of technology such as cell phones, computers, social media, and websites to humiliate another person—has proliferated. Statistics estimate that 42 percent of young children and teenagers have been bullied online.1 Whereas children could traditionally find in their homes a safe haven from bullies, “today’s bullies use technology to spread rumors and threats, making life miserable for their victims throughout the day and night.”2 And the shroud of Internet anonymity allows bullies to harass their targets almost without repercussions.
Counsel from an Apostle
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught against all forms of cyberbullying:
“One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity. If you ever find yourself wanting to do so, please know it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary’s tools to get you to do something you should not do. …
“… It is common today to hide one’s identity when writing hateful, vitriolic, bigoted communications anonymously online. …
“Any use of the Internet to bully, destroy a reputation, or place a person in a bad light is reprehensible. What we are seeing in society is that when people wear the mask of anonymity, they are more likely to engage in this kind of conduct, which is so destructive of civil discourse. It also violates the basic principles the Savior taught.”3
Naturally, I agreed with this article in the Ensign and I found the warnings there very timely. I am sure I have occasionally been sarcastic in past communications, and this article was a good warning about the importance of being earnest. Or at least not sarcastic all the time.