Saturday, January 09, 2010

Hello, my name is _____ and I am a snarky person.

Like many people, I can be very snarky. Snarky to the point that I can get you long testimonials of my cutting "wit" and sarcasm without hardly any effort - assuming these people haven't blocked my email address. There are people who will swear that I am completely incapable of not being snarky and consider me the Devil Incarnate (or at the very least, "the monster who lurks under the bed"). There are other people who will swear that I am the sweetest person on the face of this Earth and completely incapable of hurting a single living being. These people usually know me outside the internet. There is one term that explains both phenomena - observational bias. I am neither extreme. But that's not the topic of this post.

The topic of this post is snark and using it with restraint.

If there is one thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that nothing makes a person more stupid than the overuse of snark. It narrows one's world view by disregarding possibilities. It subverts the brain's ability to comprehend what psychologists call a "theory of mind" or the ability to understand a situation from a view other than your own. My son used to love listening to some very snarky product review shows. While the technical information given on these shows is top rate, the subjective value judgments by the hosts/writers is so appalling ignorant in social and behavioral understanding that I would become nauseous holding back the urge to correct their comments with research. Stupid doesn't begin to cover the comments. Stupidity implies that they lack the mental ability to comprehend possibilities outside their own. No, this is quite beyond that. This is the suspension of the reality that they are not the center of the universe and its only truth. This is self-made idiocy. The kind researchers talk about when they write about IQ being like height to a basketball player. Height can give a basketball player an advantage, but only is he uses it. Research has shown that scoring a high IQ score does not mean that the person will actually use those reasoning skills on a regular basis. A good editorial article for laymen on the subject is: Clever fools: Why a high IQ doesn't mean you're smart.

But snark can be useful. Just like a crowbar. The trick is to recognized when a situation needs it and to apply it with some precision and care. If you're skilled enough with either, you can correct a sticky situation with minimal damage. Unfortunately, most of us are apes when it comes to both and tend to leave gapping holes, without budging the object of resistance.

It's also great for setting boundaries. While I showed some capacity for snark as a young person, I tried to avoid it because it "wasn't nice". Unfortunately, my nice boundaries were too encompassing, due to the fact that the people who drummed it into my head that I always needed to be nice were also the first to exploit my niceness. And as it is with all systems that get stretched beyond reasonable limits, I was forced eventually to compensate as a means of self-preservation. This meant that I had to take that snark crowbar that I kept locked up and learn how to use it. It also meant, with time, I had to also learn how not to use it.

I won't lie to you, it has taken years - and I started late. I've made my fair share of gapping holes. But at least I haven't gotten stuck in them and they're getting smaller with time. I figure in another decade, if my progress continues, I might even be skilled enough to use it effectively with minimal force - and not leave a scratch.

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