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Stop the Sarcasm
Mom with a View

Stop the Sarcasm

It’s cruel and undignified.


Teenagers everywhere beware. I heard a beautiful idea recently that is going to severely curtail your ability to communicate (no, it has nothing to do with texting!) There is no sarcasm anywhere in the Torah.

All the pre-eminent commentators agree that the very idea of speaking sarcastically was anathema to our forefathers. It was so totally inconsistent with their righteous character that it was inconceivable they would speak that way. Sarcasm is so dismissive and disrespectful of others that it would reflect such a lack of sense of their own dignity, a lack of recognition that we are created in the Almighty’s image.

Sarcasm is both cruel and undignified. It is not a form of speech befitting a Torah scholar or a righteous individual (or even someone who aspires to be a righteous individual). This includes eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging, muttering under one’s breath and all of the other ways in which adolescents express their dismissive attitude towards their parents.

But of course this isn’t limited to teens only.

Like profanity, sarcasm is a cheap laugh or an easy put-down. Outside of the parent-child relationship, it buys social status at the expense of the victims. It is unattractive yet has become all too common. Survivor-mode television shows require sarcastic hosts to gain higher ratings and comedians turn to sarcasm when witty repartee fails them. And of course, teenagers think they are oh-so-cool when they master a particularly clever (or so they imagine) sarcastic put-down. Like “I know you are but what am I?...” or something like that.

It is reflective, I believe, of the dumbing down of our society. And it is a reflection as well of the loss of dignity, of respect for each other, of a sense of the vast potential of the human being and the greatness available. If we truly walked around with the appreciation that we are created in the image of God, if we truly understood the gift of life the Almighty has given us and the vastness of the possibilities therein, we wouldn’t feel compelled to resort to sarcasm. And we certainly wouldn’t do it for some cheap laughs. Or at the expense of others.

If we understood what it is be created by the Almighty we would speak in way that is cultivated and considerate, that is both articulate and sensitive to the needs of others.

We make the mistake of thinking that sarcasm is a sign of precociousness, a clever, sophisticated use of humor. If we were truly wise, we would know that sarcasm is a limited and ultimately ineffective tool for communication. If we were truly wise, we would understand the need to use words appropriately – to nurture others, to uplift others, to create bonds with others – and to preserve our own dignity through carefully choosing our words.

Adolescents can be forgiven their fascination with the sarcastic. They are young. It will pass. They feel powerless and this seems like one of the only tools in their arsenal against their all-powerful parents.

But it should not be a habit that lingers. We know better. We are better. We deserve better. And so does everyone around us.

January 14, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 21

(14) Anonymous, February 21, 2013 6:24 PM

Not correct

Sarcasm is not only for teenagers nor is it "cruel" or "undignified." Some of the best yiddish jokes are based on irony and sarcasm that reflect Jewish history and viewpoints. Sarcasm can be used as light-hearted banter with wit and irony that does not put down or hurt anybody. It needs to recognized that there are different forms of sarcasm and humor instead of completely judging the entire spectrum of sarcasm harshly.

(13) Anonymous, May 30, 2012 1:00 PM

This was a very interesting and well written article. I agree that sarcasm can indeed be a destructive force. However, we must consider the context in which it is used. If one is using it to embarrass another person then this is just wrong. However, if it is being used to protest against an unjust practice I would not be so quick to criticize. Also, there are many learning disabled/developmentally disabled individuals who have expressive and/or receptive language deficits. If one directs sarcasm at these people, it is nothing more than verbal abuse when the victim is unable to comprehend the message.

(12) Anonymous, January 19, 2012 4:15 PM

Lighten up

Come on, lighten up! There is a difference between sarcasm used as irony, banter, and satire, and sarcasm used as derision, contempt, and scorn. Sarcasm is a tool of language, and like all tools, it can be used in ways good, bad, and indifferent.

(11) Erica, January 18, 2012 7:15 PM

Thank you for the reminder...

Wow, I am truly humbled. Thank you for the reminder of what I am striving to be and how truly awesome it would be if we truly understood and appreciated everything we are given and what we should be doing with it. Thank you again for the reminder...hopefully it will remain with me longer than today.

(10) examples, January 18, 2012 3:05 AM

sarcasm in the torah

I was going to comment with examples of sarcasm in the Torah but all the other commentors did an excellent job pointing it out. Mrs. Braverman, your point about the need for respectful and unhurtful communication is a good one, but that is a general rule for all types of speech. Sarcasm is only a form of speech, not necessarily a harmful one, and it indeed has its place, as the Torah shows.

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