For anyone over about the age of 9, undergoing a tonsillectomy can be a major ordeal. I’ve heard tales of adults who are essentially incapacitated by the procedure for a month or longer. Compare that to younger children, particularly those 5 and younger, who can bounce back in a few days, and be completely healed in under two weeks.
When my oldest daughter was 13 years old, she had to have her tonsils removed. We knew it would be a rough experience, but we had no idea how bad it was going to be.
The first day, before the intravenous pain killer had completely cleared her system, she seemed to do pretty well. Friends came. She laughed. She ate a little food with them. She went to bed late.
Day two was a completely different story. No longer benefitting from the high-powered pain killer of the previous day, she was in so much pain that just swallowing was agonizing. By day eight, she had lost almost 12 pounds because she had not consumed any food and hardly any water.
By nature and profession, my wife has always been a gentle caregiver. She’s coddled me many times when I have a bad cold or a hangnail. (Yeah, I’m one of those guys.) My wife was trying desperately to care for our daughter who was visibly wasting away. Any time she was offered food or drink, she would pull away. The pain was too intense.
Day 9. Our daughter was sitting at the counter, crying, with a small container of yogurt and a pain pill in front of her. Her mother was there, imploring her to take just a few bites so she could take the pain pill.
I put my arm around my daughter and leaned in so I could look her in the face. I might have insinuated that by not eating she would just waste away and die, and that was okay because it was one less mouth to feed, and I wouldn’t really miss her that much.
My daughter knows how much I love her. I’ve generally had a pretty good relationship with all my kids. Having the kind of relationship that we do, she knew I was, of course, just teasing her.
It might have been the first time she’d smiled since the IV meds had worn off.
I kept the jabs going.
I don’t think you can eat that container of yogurt.
I don’t think you actually want to get better.
I think you like the pain because it means more attention.
And then, she at the entire container of yogurt. And, she took a pain pill.
It was a turning point. Within a week, she was back on her feet doing all the things she enjoyed doing again.
Sarcasm and sardonicism are closely related words. A sardonic comment is generally a grim mockery of something, usually a truth. A sardonic comment is one intended to cause the hearer some level of discomfort or pain. You can’t make sardonic comments from a place of love.
Now, in a strict dictionary-definition kind of way, sarcasm is also usually associated with wanting to hurt someone’s feelings with biting, caustic comments. However, when properly applied, sarcasm can be a powerful way to connect with people, particularly people you love and care about.
In the case of my daughter, I didn’t give any real thought to how I would approach that morning of the 9th day. My wife and I were both preoccupied. If she didn’t get nourishment soon, she would likely need IV fluids to keep her from becoming severely dehydrated.
I tend to be sarcastic in many of my communications with people. At times, it is a defense mechanism when dealing with an uncomfortable subject. Other times, as with my daughter, it remains an effective and loving way for us to communicate with each other. At times, I am sardonic because I want to fling some barbs at a person, but that’s pretty rare and I usually apologize later.
The journal Scientific American printed an article in November 2015 titled, “The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm”. In it, author Francesca Gino notes, “The use of sarcasm, in fact, promotes creativity for those on both the giving and receiving end of sarcastic exchanges. Instead of avoiding sarcasm completely in the office, the research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks.”
I can relate to that. I’ve been involved in many business conversations where playful jabs have prompted uncovering elusive solutions to problems.
Of course, we can’t hang our hats on a single statement from a 2015 study. One thing that’s important to remember is that sarcasm is most effective when the hearer had the ability to separate context from what is being said. As noted in a piece written by Richard Dunk, a Lecturer in Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, “On a basic level, sarcastic comments are more difficult to understand than plainly spoken phrases. . .[and] children rely heavily on intonation to verify ironic suggestions or humorous exaggeration.”
If the hearer can’t identify sarcasm or if the hearer doesn’t really know where you’re coming from then sarcasm is, at best, misleading. At worst, it can appear cruel.
In short, before employing sarcasm, make sure you know your audience. If you don’t know your audience or if you approach it from a place other than one of love and mutual respect, then it’s likely to backfire. People will be offended or hurt. But, when properly applied, it can strengthen relationships and spark creativity.
Now, stop wasting time reading this article and go do something useful.