Friday, April 13, 2007

Sarcasm and destruction

This is a confessional post. It is one of those things about myself which, in one sense, I know, but in another I have been smacked upside the head with enough recently that it is making an impact.

In her article A small, beautiful thing from the March 20, 2007 article of The Christian Century, Stephanie Paulsell ruminates a bit on making sacrifices during Lent and the small-ness of those gestures. She writes:
But the small gestures that we are invited to embrace each Lent help us experiment with our lives; they help us try on different ways of living. Last year, a nine-year-old friend of my daughter told her, "I'm giving up sarcasm for Lent. And it's really hard."

Think of what that child stood to learn in her attempt to renounce sarcasm for 40 days. She already knew what it feels like to have a great, sarcastic rejoinder well up inside of her, a comeback that draws the attention of others to her, makes them laugh at her cleverness. But her Lenten practice taught her what it feels like to have that sarcastic reply come to mind, and then to wait and let it pass. Perhaps she learned that to say no to a sarcastic remark opens a space for other kinds of conversation. Perhaps she learned to cherish the anticipation of what might be said instead. And perhaps, through her learning to say no to a small, destructive force, her ability to resist larger destructive forces increased.

While not the overall theme of her article, this paragraph hit home for me. I am often cynical and sarcastic. I have always thought of it as a part of who I am. Partially because of my family of origin, partially because of experiences I had growing up, and probably a whole lot because of my own insecurity. I enjoy sarcasm. I appreciate comedians who use it well to make their points. I am quick to deliver a snappy comeback and assume it is alright because people know I am "just kidding." As Paulsell writes about her young friend, I want to draw people's attention to me and be amused at my cleverness. What I have not paid enough attention to is the destruction that wreaks on others. While I may preach about being a humble servant, I have used sarcasm to build myself up while putting others down. I need to work on my own insecurity issues without dragging others down.

I am going to work to change this part of myself. It will be difficult, because in some ways, this is a part of myself I like. I remember a seminary colleague telling me one time that he was impressed with how well I "thought on my feet" and could adjust a presentation as it was happening. Quick wit and sarcasm are often the same, but they need not be. I am going to work to change so that I stop hurting others and so that I allow conversations to continue instead of squelching them. Sharing this here is a way to invite others to hold me accountable and remind me when I am not living up to the change I want to make.

I am also reminded of what a deacon at my internship congregation told me. He was dieing of cancer and clinging to the last days of life on this earth. We met one day and he told me, rather bluntly, that while he knew I was a very caring person, I had a lousy way of showing it. He's right. I do care for others, and I have good ideas, but getting moving on them is difficult, especially when there are so many other things to do. Trying to control sarcasm is one way of being better at showing my care for others and not tearing others down to build myself up.

Perhaps, through learning to say no to a small, destructive force, my ability to resist larger destructive forces will increase.