When I was younger, I thought that the best way to say something was to say the exact opposite. I considered sarcasm the best way to convey any of my opinions, ideas, or sentiments about the world around me. I thought that I was being cool, that I was being original.
One day I was talking to my little sister, Jenny, who was almost four at the time. She asked a simple question, whether they speak Chinese in China. I replied with what I thought was a witty response, saying “Oh no, Jenny, they speak English.”
“Do they really?” she inquired.
“No Jenny, of course they speak Chinese.”
“Then why did you say they spoke English?” she asked, looking baffled and a little hurt.
At that moment, I had an epiphany that went to the heart of something big: that is, how I was communicating and how I was being understood by people––or not. It took a 4-year-old to help me to realize that sarcasm was having an effect I hadn’t intended––that of being misunderstood, and in more ways than one. I guess I hadn’t realized until that moment, seeing Jenny’s perplexed expression, that the sarcasm I embraced as humor was actually distancing me from my meaning and from the people listening to me. Communication is a fundamental part of life—something that we all need and use daily—but I had learned to put sarcasm between myself and open and honest dialogue.
At that moment, I decided to always say what I mean. Jenny deserved better, and so did everyone else. I recognized that each time I was using my standard comeback, I was articulating to people something about myself that wasn’t true. For despite what my sarcasm likely conveyed, I am not a cynic; I am not a pessimist; and I do not intend to mock people. I had to learn that we not only convey who we are by what we say, but by how we say it. Ironically, sarcasm was my way of trying to be social, and yet it had the opposite effect—pushing people away.
During the weeks and months following my realization, it was difficult trying to translate my new resolve into action. Sarcasm was a behavior that I had learned and used for so long that it was ingrained in me. Each time that I found myself wanting to be sarcastic with people, I had to check it, sometimes slipping back into the old habit and then instantly apologizing.
I wanted to break the habit. I wanted people to see me as an earnest person––but sarcasm had become a conversational crutch for me. Now, a little over a year after becoming more conscious of what I am actually saying, I continue to work on expressing my true thoughts, constantly trying to show people the respect that they deserve. As a consequence, I am seeing more respect come back to me.
I had no idea that sarcasm was something that could feel so fundamentally a part of your personality and yet not worthy of it, of me. I now know that the most important part of what I say is the meaning behind it, and that the sincere meaning, which reflects the true me, is what I want to world to see and hear. I have a lot to say to people in this world, and I need to make sure they know that I mean what I say.