Community Columns

Column: Say it straight, but be careful how you say it

Did you ever walk away from a conversation scratching your head, mumbling: “What exactly did she mean by that?”

Sometimes these types of conversations leave us feeling a tad thin-skinned, but in reality we’re not. Most likely, we’re victims of a “sharp tongue” attack. We may wonder if the comment was meant to be sarcastic or if it was based on someone’s issues. Most times, it’s both.

For some folks, it’s impossible to be upfront; instead, they use their “sharp tongues,” aka sarcasm, to make their point. News flash: For those who are on the receiving end of a snarky remark, the point is never well taken because the real issue isn’t dealt with. It’s like planting peas and expecting corn.

There is a lot of “not getting it” these days. I’m not one who allows things to fester, and more than a few times I’ve had to confront a sharp tongue. Usually they’ll try to turn the issue around with, “I didn’t mean it that way; can’t you take a joke”?

Surely there are times when a joke is intended to be a joke, or we may blurt out some crude remark in anger. However, when we realize that our actions caused pain, apologies are in order. Agreed? After all, we’re not animals lying in the sun; we’re humans with human frailties and we screw up. But then there are folks who are genuine smart-alecks.

Everyone has someone in their life — be it a spouse, coworker, employer or friend — who delights in using sarcastic, passive-aggressive barbed words as a means of communication. Numerous studies have shown that sarcasm is a way of disguising contempt or hate.

Sharp-tongued folks sometimes make their points through jokes. Sure, they can be witty and even hilarious; however, they are all “bluster and show” when playing to an audience. Therein lies the rub: In doing so, they devalue and belittle those who are in their line of fire. In my book, they are bona fide cowards.

Sarcastic individuals have negative energy that spills over and poisons the room, just as sure as toxic waste pollutes the environment. Sarcasm is passive-aggressive behavior that can be used as a way to assert dominance. For instance, someone who is very angry and too timid to voice resentment will use sarcasm as a disguised slur.

Lest you think that I’m above throwing a barb or two, think again. I’ve done it, especially when criticized for wearing a short skirt that, according to one gal, wasn’t age-appropriate. (Whatever that means!) My answer: “The look you were going for? You missed!” Awful of me, I know.

But wait. Before we cower in a corner or lash back when we’re ducking outrageous barbs, we need to consider the source. Here’s the sad truth: Psychologists believe that folks who engage in sarcasm are insecure, suppress anger and are socially inept.

Facebook is famous for attracting sharped-tongued folks. We live in a country whose First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but c’mon, sometimes it goes beyond the pale. Crude language, veiled and not-so-veiled insults and meanness are simply unattractive.

I believe there is an element of truth behind every sharped-tongue remark, but why not come out and say what you mean? Free expression is our birthright and sincerity is our absolute best ally. Folks, for heaven’s sake, say what’s on your mind, but say it with dignity and respect.

There is a great “tell it like it is” song recorded by Joe South that is as viable today as it was when recorded in the ’60s. It’s titled “Games People Play.” Here goes:

Oh, the games people play now

Every night and every day now

Never meaning what they say now

Never saying what they mean

While they while away the hours

In their ivory towers

Till they’re covered up with flowers

In the back of a black limousine.

Sobering thought, eh?

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.