THE BEANBAG PSYCHOLOGIST 11
What we say is not always what we mean. We like to play with words and confuse others just as much as we like to be heard and understood! The process of communication typically comprises spoken language, body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone, pitch and volume of voice. We have the capacity to creatively alter any number of these factors in communication in order to change the very meaning of the same set of words! It’s not always that words carry their apparent meanings. This is particularly true in cases where we employ sarcasm. The statement: “Oh! What a big surprise!”, when said in a high pitch of voice and accompanying facial expressions and gestures is a straightforward expression of surprise, but if said with a flat and dry tone with a roll of the eyes, becomes a sarcastic expression of the predictability or mundaneness of the event. Sarcasm also includes exaggerating information to a point where it is meant as mockery. Saying “You are too early for tomorrow’s class” at a tardy person, “Is there a famine in your town?” at an overweight person, or “Man, do you light up a room!” at a gloomy person, etc., are all exaggerated accounts that mock the state of the other.
In a fight, it is not uncommon for people to say, “Yes, I am wrong! I am always wrong and I am oh-so-sorry!” If we really meant this, we would need to look for excuses to fight! But since no one is in a hurry to turn into a saint, we twist our faces and adopt a harsh accusatory tone at the other person to imply the opposite! In this manner, sarcasm is used a tool to express frustration and aggression. This can be potentially cathartic (tension-releasing) but when sarcasm is used like this to boost one’s own self-esteem by putting others down, it can be very damaging and eventually destroy a relationship if it becomes habitual. Destructive sarcasm needs to be assertively confronted as it can hurt the confidence of the person in the receiving end. In close friends circles, sarcasm can feed many a laughs if based on mutual respect and trust. Sarcasm directed towards the self can be a healthy way of making light of one’s shortcomings but if done too extensively, it can damage self-esteem even more.
Sarcasm is one of the most ambiguous ways in which people communicate with each other. If you have ever met a person who seems to be actually teasing people through his apparent compliments to them, you know what this means! Are you rethinking some of the compliments that came your way, yet?
SANGEETHA MADHU & JYOTHI RAVICHANDRAN, THE HINDU IN SCHOOL