Sarcasm is corrosive, like acid rain falling downwind of a power plant that burns high-sulfur coal. It seems benign and gentle, as raindrops rolling off the marble statue of a revered hero in the city square, yet it sculpts the identity of its victim into a grotesque caricature whose character is no longer recognizable.

I have seen what sarcasm can do. I watched the marriages of two couples, close to my heart at the beginning, melt under the constant dripping of sarcasm. Eventually, I could recognize neither partner in these matches. Neither could they. So they went their separate ways, feeling deeply wronged and bitter.

American political discourse has become a simmering vat of sarcasm. Supporters align with the politician they feel has the sharpest wit or inflicts a more poisonous sting than her opponents. They vote for the candidate who handles himself most adroitly in the arena of character assassins. (I wonder, does this mean we will choose the most deadly character assassin as our next President?)

Whether it’s a deceptively gentle drip or a roiling vat of concentrated acid, sarcasm can destroy us all. We may be better prepared to deal with it if we recognize some common patterns of a sarcastic relationship:

  • The person who feels at the greatest disadvantage is often the first to use sarcasm in a relationship. This person hopes to take refuge behind its apparent humor. If the dominant individual strikes back, a sarcastic wit can say,”I was only kidding!”
  • At first, the other person is not likely to “fight fire with fire” but be perplexed or bemused by the sarcasm. The first response may be silence.
  • When the sarcasm cuts deeply enough into the victim’s self-esteem, a sarcastic response is often made. Then the tit-for-tat escalates until both individuals have a relationship of mutual disdain. Sniping becomes their normal way of communicating with one another.

If a person’s poor self-image precipitates sarcasm toward others, how might we stop this corrosive cycle after it has begun? How could God’s high esteem for an individual change this situation?