Sarcasm and Watching Our Words
By Scott Hughes
Part of my Lenten practice has been to be aware of and limit the amount of sarcasm I use. (I knew quitting was an impossibility.) I realized how my sarcasm, which is intended as humor, was not always helpful due to an incident that occurred just before Ash Wednesday. In what should have been a teachable moment, my sarcasm possibly embarrassed someone, and it shut down further conversation. So far, I have noticed that my use of sarcasm has become an ingrained response, and I know that I will continually need to work on limiting this so that I can communicate better with loved ones and friends.
While for me, sarcasm is a problem, another dynamic that I have noticed in political conversations is the pervasive and pernicious use of hyperbole and the overuse of adjectives. This dynamic is highlighted in a timely blog post titled “The Return of the Rational–Separating Facts vs. Stories” (https://www.vitalsmarts.com/crucialskills/2017/03/the-return-of-the-rational-separating-facts-vs-stories/) by Joseph Grenny at Vital Smarts. I’ve noticed this tendency in myself for a while and have tried my best to limit it. This tendency toward hyperbole and overstated adjectives is detrimental to our political discourse. For example, “If this bill passes, this will be the worst thing to ever happen.” Perhaps a more targeted example will help, “This immigration bill is completely unchristian. How can someone be a Christian and support this?!” For you, there might be a disconnect between the Christian narrative regarding immigrants and the bill in question. Others might have a different perspective where their Christian values intersect with their experience and leads them to a different conclusion. Simply labeling something as unchristian, for one, doesn’t make it so and, two, sets up a conversation where defensiveness and contrariness will be the tone. We might also add that the overuse of adjectives and exaggerations often neglects nuances that are needed for a proper perspective. Additionally, we should consider James’s many warnings about the use of our tongue (see James 1:26, 3:5-8).
Being mindful of how we communicate not only shows respect for others, but also puts us in position to be better learners from others wisdom and experience.
The above-mentioned blog at Vital Smarts and the many wonderful resources at that site are a great way to learn more helpful ways of handling conversations. Simply dropping the exaggerations and stating our convictions with humility is a better way forward. Another strategy is to include the rationale for our beliefs. So for example, someone might assert, “As a Christian who takes seriously the biblical command to welcome the stranger, I am struggling with understanding the changes that are being pushed with regard to immigration.” Here you have named your rationale. This gives a person who disagrees with you a place to enter the conversation. Plus, in this example, you have named this as your struggle without labeling those who might hold different opinions.
At first glance, trying to filter our language might seem like a “politically correct” way of engaging in conversation. Instead, I submit that it opens the door for conversations in ways that respect disagreement and those who hold different opinions. What it means to be “politically correct” probably deserves its own discussion. For our purposes here, being mindful of how we communicate not only shows respect for others, but also puts us in position to be better learners from others’ wisdom and experience.
Questions for Reflection
What have your Lenten practices taught you?
How might our tone and exaggerations be a turn-off for some to the gospel? to Jesus?
What’s the distinction between being prophetic and humble in our opinions?