Grand Canyonby Sarah at ProgressiveKid

Today I was lucky enough to have a lesson about sarcasm, and I’m not saying that at all sarcastically. Earlier in the day I confess that I might have emphasized my words differently. But I’ve since had an epiphany.

Because of our articles on artificial turf, among other things, on a ledge is linked to and cited in a number of turf-specific locations on the Internet, including the site of one well-known periodical with what I had believed to be (and may indeed be, with a few exceptions) a following of crunchy greenies and back-to-the-earth types. The link was part of a Q&A page featuring a question about the safety of using rubber tire planters.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when the Q&A received a comment from a woman who succinctly and in no uncertain terms ravaged my article purely on the grounds that I am a fiction writer:

“You’re kidding, right? For an authority on this subject you are quoting a blog written by a fiction writer? Give me a break.”

I had not realized that being a fiction writer disqualified one from being able to write with authority on any real topic, as in the sense that

a fiction writer = a liar; someone who just makes crazy stuff up.

This was news to me, and my mind argumentatively ran through a random list of folks who had, despite their membership among the suspect fiction writer gang, managed to have a profound impact on the politics and society of their time and also to write worthwhile nonfiction (LeGuin, Swift, Defoe, Camus, Sartre, Zola, Cervantes, Dreiser, Hawthorne, Huxley, Koestler, Walker, and on and on; some of these people were likewise slammed for their work). But I ultimately shrugged off the comment as a case of someone having been tormented in some way by an evil fiction writer, and not even a fiction writer like me, despite my superior skills in the art of subterfuge and dissemblage, could imagine how.

But today I happened to notice that her comment had been commented upon by a Bob who wrote,

“Thanks Elena I wouldn’t have followed up on the link and known what type of things this person believed. It’s nice to know from which galaxy a person is coming from when considering their viewpoint.”

So not only are fiction writers untrustworthy and irrelevant when it comes to having an authoritative voice on anything meaningful, but we’re also quite possibly from outer space. I also wondered what types of things Bob believed I believed that were so extraterrestrial. A quick perusal of our blog’s About Page reminded me of my otherwordly beliefs—the wacky value of

  • protecting living things,
  • acting on principle,
  • striving to be self-aware,
  • living healthfully,
  • honoring difference,
  • challenging gender roles, and
  • thinking creatively.

Wow, those are some far-out ideas, I thought sarcastically. Especially the one about living healthfully—what loon would want to do that? Or thinking creatively—outrage! Honoring difference?—blasphemy! What’s this heresy about challenging gender roles? (I want my girl to indulge solely in princess play, and ironing.) I was tempted to write Elena anonymously and thank her for saving us regular types from listening to such a lunatic and her ridiculous ideas about artificial turf.

But I paused, and in pausing and refraining at least temporarily from stepping on the sarcasm pedal, I was able to have the following chain of insights:

1. Sarcasm is A LOT of fun!

I really really wanted to indulge, and it was very hard to resist.

2. Maybe what we’re about here on a ledge is radical and a little scary to some people.

Could it be that the seven values that formed the foundation of ProgressiveKid, Green Goat Books, and on a ledge, despite seeming rather innocent, familiar, and perhaps even somewhat simple were more out there than I realized? PK customers are a special, unique group and I have grown accustomed to their deep thinking, thoughtfulness, and appreciation for what we do. But even within the green, progressive movement, there is a wide range of beliefs.

3. Sarcasm is bad!

Disclaimer: I am in NO WAY comparing my blog on artificial turf to anything that Jesus or Gandhi or MLK or the Buddha or any great spiritual leader ever did (although I’m going to guess that most of them would have objected to walking barefoot across plastic grass). But I did stop to have a What would Jesus/Mohandas/Martin/Siddartha do? moment. And in so doing, my first thought was that these guys were hardly ever sarcastic because sarcasm is negative and pulls people apart, which is the opposite of what they were trying to do. But then I wondered if my assumptions about their behavior were even true. So I did a little research and found an interesting essay by L. Ray Smith defending his own use of sarcasm in which he lists numerous excellent examples of Jesus being angry and sarcastic—quite sarcastic and effectively so.

4. If Jesus did it, how bad could it be?

All this thinking was happening while I was in the shower so I was definitely overusing water, but I had to keep going. I had erroneously concluded that the great spiritual leaders were above sarcasm because, I thought, sarcasm creates huge rifts among people, and someone working to improve the human condition whether in this world or the next would want to avoid lobbing such a grenade. So if Jesus tossed out a few good ones here and there was it because he was having an occasional moment of weakness? Quite possibly. But there was another way of looking at it that I hadn’t considered.

5. Maybe sarcasm doesn’t tear people apart.

The minute I thought it, it felt right. What if, I thought, sarcasm doesn’t create a rift? What if sarcasm is merely a reasonable response to a rift that already exists? Looked at in this new light, sarcasm was an expression of the astonishment we feel when we discern that another human being is miles and miles away from us in understanding.

Imagine two people on opposite sides of a canyon, let’s say the Grand Canyon. What good would it do for one of the people to recommend gently to the other that she simply come on over? A much more sensible approach would be to shout, “Hey, why don’t you just jump across?” sarcastically of course.

6. Sarcasm makes sense, is reasonable, and, like I said, can be fun.

Sarcasm not only helps us cope with our surprise at the chasm. It is perhaps, when the chasm is so large, the one response that might actually bridge the gap. It might, as it did for some of Jesus’s audience, shake people from their stupidity or rigidity or closed mindity. It is at times the only response that makes any darn sense. How can we ignore the gigantic chasm? How can we pretend it doesn’t exist? Sometimes the best thing we can do is to acknowledge it, and sometimes the most human and healthy way to do that is to inject into the conversation some outrageousness, humor, and real emotion conveyed through the upside-down-world words of sarcasm.

I turned off the water finally. I could have then have gone to my desk to write my sarcastic comment to the woman on the Q&A page. But there was no longer any reason to. The chasm between us no longer mattered. I had crossed over to the understanding I needed from the situation, and sarcasm had helped me get there.

©2008 ProgressiveKid

Image by James Gordon 2007, Creative Commons license

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