By Lisa Sugarman
I remember back to when Dave and I were first married and we started kicking around the idea of having a family. Oh, the old days. (Not that I don’t love my life now with my kids, because I do; I just miss the longer showers.)
I vividly recall that first real conversation we had about the type of kids we hoped to have and how we wished (both of us equally) that they’d be born with whatever magical gene it is that generates a healthy sense of sarcasm. You know it, that certain quality that a person has that gives them perfect comedic timing and a spikey wit. Well we wanted that kid. And we felt pretty confident, at least from a DNA standpoint, that between the two of us, we had a dominant enough DNA sequence to ensure that our kids would be at least mildly sarcastic.
I know, it’s not exactly what you’d expect potential new parents to wish for, but Dave and I have always been slightly quirky with what we’ve prioritized as important traits in our kids.
Like how we’ve always insisted that our girls know how to crack a decent, well-timed joke, always chair dance while singing Simon and Garfunkel on every ski lift ride, and be comfortable tie-dying all of their pancakes with food coloring.
Above all, though, we always hoped that our kids would develop a healthy, appropriate sense of sarcasm. Because as far as I’m concerned, there’s absolutely nothing more exhilarating than watching one of my daughters toss out an expertly crafted zinger that has the ability to make people laugh (and think). It’s a real gift and any parent should be proud to have a child with that kind of social skill. I know I am.
Like we’ve actually felt legitimate pride in our kids’ ability to recognize and deliver a solidly ironic comment. Because not everyone can. Not everyone is wired to give or receive sarcastic humor. Just like not everyone is born with rhythm or the ability to hit a high note or pick up a guitar and just play. There’s just certain stuff we’re born with and an edgy sense of humor is one of them.
Look, now that I’m seeing my thoughts in black and white, I do recognize that it sounds a little ridiculous to actually wish that your kids learn to be sarcastic, but you have to understand that we both come from incredibly saucy families who love to sling it every which way, so it just seemed natural for us to cross our fingers that any children we had would be little wisenheimers. Because amongst our families, the more you sling it, the more you love the slingee. And that’s true within my group of friends, too.
Not to mention the fact that there have been actual studies done that support the idea that sarcastic people are more creative than non-sarcastic types. Yep. It’s true. In Eric Fluckey’s Huffington Post article Why Sarcasm is so Great, he wrote that scientists from Harvard, Columbia, and INSEAD Business School just had to learn if sarcasm had any effects on a person’s cognitive abilities. So much so that they ran an actual experiment. (Love that that’s what they spent their time and resources evaluating.) And the people in the test groups who had given or received sarcastic remarks in conversations outperformed those who didn’t. In fact, they were found to be about three times more creative. Because, Fluckey says, both the giver and the receiver had to mentally work out the contradictory nature of sarcasm for it to be effective. Hey says the mental processes involved in the interpretation and delivery seems to flame the creative spark. And I for one think he’s absolutely right.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that there is, and should be, a very distinct line between healthy, appropriately timed, harmless sarcasm and full-on snarkiness. And I know it. That’s why Dave and I raised our kids to know the difference. Because we both recognize that it’s all too easy for people, especially kids, to cross the line and turn an innocent remark that’s designed to be funny into something rude and chafing. Not ok.
The problem is, sarcasm has a bad rap. People hear the word and I think they often give it a negative connotation right out of the gate because the primary definition of the word is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt. And there’s nothing at all charming about being disrespectful. That said, though, there’s more than one meaning of the word. Actually, according to Your Dictionary.com, sarcasm also means the use of irony to make a joke. And there’s nothing socially wrong with making a joke or pointing out a little irony, right?
I will admit, though, now that my girls are in high school and college, that it would be refreshing, every once in a while, if they slid a normal comment into at least one of our daily conversations. Because the irony is that we may have created our own little monsters in some small way but harnessing and developing their sarcastic tendencies. But in the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.