Say it first, say it fast, say it funny was the way to break through the cacophony of seven kids in my family, all wanting to be heard. There were lively arguments and lots of laughter, and to this day no one can make me laugh more than my siblings on a roll.
My father was a warm and wise man with a dry sense of humor. He made us think and he made us laugh. He taught us by example about hard work and kindness, acceptance and endurance. He also drank too much. There were some times before he found AA that were pretty tough. I learned that one way of coping was to mask all kinds of feelings with the funny. My siblings are the same way. To this day if the discussion gets too real, someone is sure to crack a joke, and we’re all sure to laugh. I’m very comfortable with words. I’m sometimes less so with communication.
I know I’m not alone. Not everyone chooses humor to deflect painful emotions, but there isn’t anyone who doesn’t hide behind something—anger, insult, judgment, denial—at times, to avoid the scary vulnerability of honest conversation. We’re all programmed to protect our secret selves. Words are powerful. They can enrage, wound, obfuscate and separate. They can also calm, heal, clarify and unite.
Authentic communication, the kind that lets us really connect with each other, requires risk and a measure of trust. Neither of which I’m particularly good at. It’s too easy for me to substitute quips for compassion, and sarcastic remarks that override expressions of genuine feeling. I have resolved to work on it.
However, I know that a snark-free me is just not going to happen. It’s in the genes. I don’t want to take all the funny out. Should family gatherings suddenly become sticky puddles of over sharing and supportive comments, I would find it more than a bit disconcerting. A touch of the “snarkastic”—my husband’s word combination of snark and sarcastic—among family and friends will always be welcome.
But I think it’s worth trying to temper it a little, with some authentic communication, and run the risk, sometimes, of being vulnerable.