128. Sarcasm and Other Put-Downs

Before I learned how to recognize and express my anger, I used sarcasm. I thought I was just exercising my sense of humor, and when people reacted by being offended and hurt, I thought they just didn’t get the joke. In my conscious mind, I was totally innocent, and could only pity the people who couldn’t see how innocent I was.
There is a certain category of exclamation (Duh, Ah-Doy, Duh-hickey, etc.) and an accompanying facial expression that serve to tell people that they’ve said something obvious, or missed something obvious. When children use these, they are putting people down. Children, like adults, need to establish their own places in society, and for some people, put- downs are attempts to find those places. The more people you can get to feel stupid, the smarter you can feel. It doesn’t work. Eventually, people realize that they know something important that you don’t know – that you are hostile. They may even figure out that you’re insecure. And most of the people who figure this out will not be motivated to come to your aid. Even very nurturing people can get turned off by the hostility, and go help some other insecure person. The people who are strong enough to help hostile people are few and far between, and hostile people aren’t as scarce. Hostility is easier to deal with in children. It’s not dry yet, and it’s easier to work with. Of course, you’re hearing this from someone who taught in Wellesley, Acton, Amherst, and other suburbs. I have friends who assure me that children in less supportive communities can display hostility that rivals the worst that adults have to offer. I’ll take their word for it. But the repressed hostility couched in sarcasm and other put-downs is a force, even in comfortable communities, and we owe it to children to help them come to terms with what they are repressing, and find ways to express it without making life harder for themselves and others.

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