The amount of snark and sarcasm I see in social media outlets seems to continue to increase over time. I know that some of this is due to the current election campaign season, which always seems to bring out the worst in us, but I think it’s also become an increasingly acceptable way to talk about other people.
A friend of mine who appreciates snark in a way that I do not recently explained her enjoyment of it as follows: “For most of us, snark is a defense; it’s about hopelessness and anger at a world that looks utterly irredeemable. It’s how we protect our hearts which have been hurt over and over again when we’ve tried to change something, only to find that things get worse or they never change.” Given the amount of hopelessness and anger I see and hear around me, it is not surprising that snark would be on the increase, if her assessment is accurate for the majority.
However, snark—even when I find it funny—has always had the sound to me of judgment and criticism woven into it. It reminds me too much of the playground bullying I remember as a child, except that it is now adults who are bullying one another online and in public. I appreciate that others do not share my reaction to it and that I am seen as being without a sense of humor, but I routinely cringe for the ones who are at the receiving end of the verbal lash of the whip when I hear the snarky put-downs. Words can and do hurt.
Since this has been so much on my mind recently, I keep stumbling across articles and posts on the subject of snark and satire, so I am sharing a selection of them here. The combined impact of these for me has been to strengthen my commitment to watching my own words and attitude to make sure I’m not becoming inured to snark as a default.
The first article that came my way is one from Lifehacker called The Snarky Voice in Your Head Is Killing Your Productivity; Here’s How to Stop It by Alan Henry. This one lists a whole host of negative effects chronic snark and cynicism has on people, including cardiovascular illness and heart disease! While I generally try to avoid snark in my own interactions, it did make me think a bit harder about my tendency to be critical and judgmental of others since it is a similar negativity (even if not expressed the same way). A number of the tips the article gives for an attitude improvement certainly apply to my own critical nature as well.
The next one I encountered was on Patheos and was called The Role of Satire, Snark and Sarcasm in Building Community by Bruce Reyes-Chow. The short version is that “there is none.” Although he goes on to add “these tactics serve mostly to galvanizing communities already in agreement in order to be a force against the enemy and they do very little to help build bridges of reconciliation, relationships and commonality.” One thing I loved about this article is that he acknowledges how cathartic and how good it can feel to come up with that perfect zinger (or even to read or hear someone else’s zinger against a common foe). However, he inspires me with his conscious choice to forgo that momentary pleasure in the pursuit of building bridges, which he believes (and I agree) is a loftier goal.
Although Bruce Reyes-Chow is coming at this from a religious angle, Andy Leonard comes to a similar conclusion in his post about software business called To Snark Or Not To Snark…. He makes the point that while snark might allow you to win in the short term, it tears down relationships so you wind up losing in the longer term.
Paul Bryson of Stoic Lawyer comes back to the point that snark often serves a protective purpose in his post How to Kill the Snark. He goes on to say, “Snark is a cheap way of establishing a veneer of superiority.” Ouch! I know that whenever I have engaged in snark, it’s always been with a sense of superiority to the other person’s opinion, preferences, or other characteristics. It’s never been a way of trying to increase my understanding or build relationships with those who are different from me.
On a closely related note, Dr. Lissa Rankin has a post on Positively Positive called Lessons to Learn from Gossip, Criticism, Judgment, and Name-Dropping where she talks about learning to observe her own words to become more aware of how she is talking about others and what situations bring this behavior to the fore for her. Her approach is a good one for me and is readily adaptable to struggles with snark, sarcasm, or other forms of negative speech about others. And Thealethiophile on the Big Bible Project considers the ways we attempt to engage others on the Internet and what means of doing that might be most Christ-like in Invitation or Provocation?
Finally, I think that snark comes particularly easy to us when we are in social media outlets because it allows us to avoid looking at the person we are belittling and judging. To that end, I appreciate Brené Brown’s Free-Range Social Media movement, which is committed to treating one another with respect in the social media environment. Although she does not specifically mention snark or sarcasm, I think this does fall under her No Cruelty class where she says that the anonymity of social media makes personal attacks “cheap and easy.” I challenge you to consider participating in her Free-Range Social Media movement with me.
What are your thoughts on snark? Is it helpful? Is it hurtful? Do you believe that it works to create greater good in our world or does it add to our divisions? I’d love to hear your opinions! (No snark, please! Grin.)
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