The Problem With Sarcasm

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Years ago, we heard renowned trainer, speaker and consultant Robin Rose say that all people need two things: safety and validation. Safety is both physical safety (the building we work in is free of hazards) and emotional safety (my ideas aren’t derided by my manager). Validation, according to is “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.”

I remember first hearing this and being overwhelmed by both its truth and simplicity.

To date, I have probably shared this nugget of supreme goodness thousands of times. In training, coaching and casual conversation, I have spoken of the importance of creating safety and validation. I am incredibly convicted by this message and know at my core how having safety and validation is incredibly impactful to each of us.

Recently, I have been reading a book that encourages you to stop things like negativity, criticism and sarcasm. Although most of us would agree these behaviors are problematic, they are patterns of thinking formed over long periods of time and can be difficult to stop. While I have had varying degrees of success with the challenge, I have truly benefited from the level of awareness it has brought.

One of the most interesting things that occurs when you move to reduce or change behaviors is becoming an observer of how, when you (or others) do them, they are experienced. In this case, someone said something sarcastic to me – while their intention was for it to be humorous, I was left to turn it over and wonder what they really meant. Although I certainly didn’t think about it nonstop, I kept finding my mind pulled back to it and considering the implications.

Finally, it occurred to me; the true value of this interaction was not in whether or not their comment had merit, but how it (and others like it) affected the person to whom it was said. The comment reduced my safety and validation! It took a metaphorical axe to the base of the tree of trust and gave it a deep cut.

While there’s plenty of good reasons to stop the behaviors that the book denounces; this is, for me, the real reason to get hold of them. I want to provide safety and validation to others, not take it away.

Our culture celebrates a biting comment, a sharp swing and a knockout punch. It’s usually under the guise of humor, but it really isn’t all that funny.

All people need two things – safety and validation. They don’t cost anything to give, but are devastatingly expensive to take.