The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

On being dull

If you want to become bitter and discouraged, I recommend working construction. Construction workers have a biting, negative sarcasm that will crush the human spirit quite adequately.

I don't really know how it happened, but I was a pretty negative person when I went to college. I was bitter and self-absorbed. I'm still self-centered, like everyone, but not really bitter anymore. At college, I was always questioning people's words and actions, inferring ulterior motives and manipulative tactics onto them. I thought them insincere.

I find that we suspect others of what we know we are capable of ourselves. For example, a chronic liar believes that others will generally lie to him rather than tell the truth. Likewise, we call an kind person "innocent" because they don't expect people to be truly mean or disingenuous. This fact about people reveals the meaning behind the aphorism, "There is no honor among theives."

Of course, I never had ulterior motives, was never manipulative--I only suspected others of such despicable activity. After a summer of construction, I arrived for my freshman year of college in this mindset. It wasn't just construction that made me this way; I was already in the habit of biting sarcasm that dragged others down. I was good at it too. I'm not generally a quick-witted guy; I always wanted to have the fastest humor-draw in the West, but, alas, it was never to be. But when it came to insults, I could hold my own and cut any man off at the knees. I once bought a little book called "Garfield's Insults, Put Downs & Slams." It helped me deepen my habits. It had insults like "Your hair looks great! Did you style it with a weed wacker?" and other juvenile propaganda--good for morale.

Then there was this girl--we'll call her "Crystal," for that was her name. She annoyed the bejesus out of me. I'm not sure what "bejesus" are, but I certainly wasn't very Christ-like in my attitude toward Crystal. She came around to our dorm room all the time with a terribly frustrating smile, a giggle, and some attribute she said she liked about you. I questioned her every word. Every compliment she paid me I took as her underhanded manipulation of me, trying to just "be nice" and have a good reputation for "niceness." I hated being manipulated.

Most times, I didn't want to be around her, and I made sure she, and anyone else I didn't like, knew it. In time, I found I was just as unhappy as I could be; she hadn't changed much. I was mean to her, but instead of changing her, it only impacted me. I found that all this negative energy was simply ruining my soul.

So, I made a decision.

I found that even if her compliments were fake--which they weren't--I felt better when she said those things. Sarcasm has this quality of causing the hearer to question what they're being told. In the case of negative sarcasm--comedic insults and the like--the reciever has two choices: consider the insulting sarcasm to be veiled honesty or completely false. They had the choice between a lesser self image or a maintained self-image. With positive sarcasm--faux encouragement like, "You're a better dancer than J-Lo!"--the recipient chooses to believe the positive idea or simply maintain the self-image they have...that's a big difference.

So, I chose the better option: positive sarcasm. I decided that it would be better to exaggerate another's accomplishments or personality traits with a positive slant than with a negative one.

Maybe this "faux encouragement" still seems mean-spirited or insincere. I understand that thinking, but to it I would say, from experience I have found that my sarcastic encouragement carries a bit of honesty in it, just as negative sarcasm did. My words always reflect some small truth, dressed up with embellishment. And it has changed my mindset to one of looking for positive details to emphasize about another person, and that produces amazing responses.

Besides, people like to have others go on about their good qualities.

By my junior year, I found myself transformed in spirit and mind. The positive response I recieved from others for my encouraging words was amazing. I found myself with more friends, laughing more often, and liking myself more than I ever had. I liked myself more when I thought about myself less. I had once been so self-absorbed, caught up in my own life, and I had thought that I had to look out for Number 1. But when I stopped, I became happier. When I stopped thinking about me and my greatness and started looking at others and recognizing theirs, and making light of it, I became someone I wanted to be around.

At about the same time, I developed some new friendships with some underclassman. They were hard-nosed insulters who could bite hard and fast. I found it so easy to fall into that pattern, to defend myself by attacking them with my still-sharp teeth.

I'm working on getting duller.

Today, it's a drag to be around people who are constantly cutting others down--sarcasm or not. It truly crushes a spirit of acceptance and vulnerability. I find myself feeling oppressed in that unsafe place. And for some who take those insults personally, if they snap back in anger, Mr. Sarcasm quickly responds saying he was "just joking," and they end up looking and feeling like a fool. I think this is what happens in high school a lot, and I think it's a big reason so many kids stumble through the halls with so much hurt. I know I did.