Sarcasm, It's Actually Good For You!

This may come as a surprise to many of you, but in the interest of full disclosure I need to tell you that I am an incurable an unapologetic smart-ass. I mean, who knew; right?
As long as I can remember, I have always had a smart-assed comment or reply for practically everything and everyone. And boy, has it gotten me into trouble. It turns out that a lot of people don’t share my wry sense of humor and don’t appreciate having their faux-pas pointed out to them and the world with pithy observations and comments.
In my experience, the Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic particularly suffer from being ‘humor challenged.’ I can’t tell you how many ‘three day weekends’ I was awarded from the Penguins during my early educational career. In fact, my parents spent about as much time in the Mother Superior’s office as did I; after a while they were all on a first name basis.
Then one day, my Old Man (who was raised in a Catholic Orphanage during the Great Depression, and who had a world of respect and admiration for the nuns, but was also a truly free-thinker…and my inspiration for smart-assery) said, ‘Look Mother; let’s all agree that the kid has an authority problem and a smart mouth. But you have to agree that many times he has a point and is simply questioning inconsistencies in his teachers’ logic or presentation of dogma. We’ll work on getting him to temper the delivery if you all agree to keep him in class, where, by the way we’re paying a goodly sum to have him, so he can learn.” That seemed to do the trick, because after that I got suspended a lot less often.
In the nun’s defense, I have always admitted that they did me two enormously good turns; they beat an outstanding education into me while at the same time, beating Christianity out of me. For both of which I will be forever in their debt.
Unfortunately, that outstanding education didn’t include learning that my mouth was also one of my worst enemies. Throughout my life I continuously found that I was offending people with what I thought were humorous observations and quips.
Much later, when I was a field-grade Air Force officer deployed to a sensitive joint NATO operation, a French three star general invited me to share brandy cigars one evening (after I had publically humiliated his Chief of Staff at a meeting earlier in the day). He said, “Richard, you have a very rare talent. You have the ability to use words the way a surgeon uses a scalpel. Just remember, a surgeon can use that knife to heal or commit butchery. The choice is always yours.”
I really took that conversation to heart and have since them make a concerted and conscious effort to temper my impulses toward sarcasm. While I still have a smart mouth, I usually turn the focus of my sarcastic remarks toward myself (still making my point, but doing so at my own expense). In fact, in the last few years I have made a mighty effort to limit my witty comments to the confines of my relationships with my close friends, family and personal staff, all of whom know that I love them and if something comes out particularly sharp, they don’t hesitate to call me on it…which usually leads to another barb, but at least they understand I can’t help myself. It’s kind of like Tourette’s, but with ‘humor’ instead of obscenities.
So, sarcasm has caused me a lot of problems throughout my life. So imagine my surprise when I was poking around the Internet and found a study from Harvard University concluded that sarcasm is actually good for you! It seems that sarcasm increases creativity for both the smart-ass and those on the receiving end.
The following post from Psychology Matters highlights the results of that study:
From the Greek and Latin for “to tear flesh,” the word sarcasm has been defined as “hostility disguised as humor,” the contempt-laden speech favored by smart alecks and mean girls that’s best to avoid.
But new research by out of Harvard University finds that sarcasm is far more nuanced, and actually offers some important, overlooked psychological and organizational benefits. Sarcasm has been shown to increase creativity for both expressers and recipients. Sarcasm also enhances problem solving. Using edgy forms of humor has long been an interest of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. When sarcasm is used in light-hearted ways, it deepens social bonds too.
Sarcasm also works our brain. Studies show that language we hear is processed through the left hemisphere of the brain which interprets the literal meaning of the words. Then, the frontal lobes and the right hemisphere check the content for intention, contradictions, emotional and social meanings. Finally, the prefrontal cortex of the brain lets us know if what we’ve heard is sarcasm.
Bottom line, sarcasm is good for you.
So there you have it. Smart-asses of the world, let those bon mots fly with abandon and know that you’re actually doing everyone (especially the idiots that prompted your tongue to wag on its own) a service. Let’s make a concerted effort to increase the creativity of all those around us today.
Here’s hoping you have an intentionally great and verbally satisfying day.
Rich

By | 2015-09-23T07:04:57-04:00 September 23rd, 2015|Counseling, Counseling/Therapy, Honesty, Hypnosis, Therapy|0 Comments

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