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November 9, 2018

Teaching and training, and dealing with sarcastic know-it-alls


As someone from the midwest, I pride myself on being sarcastic. Back in Minneapolis, this type of humor, sometimes called "dry wit", is very common. Personally, I'd rather be called facetious - which is just a silly kind of sarcasm, with no venom, but I know that sarcasm can be cruel, and should not be used except in self-defense. And I will use it if I have to, but only upon provocation, or just times for fun, dueling back and forth with friends. I've known some incredibly sarcastic people, and I will often be glad to engage them, with a "touché", the same way that people like to fence, or box. But not with strangers, and certainly never out in public.

So I recognize it when I see it. And when I started teaching, back in the '90s, I learned to recognize people who were "sarcastic know-it-alls" in groups. And while in ordinary circumstances I would be happy to spar with them, and maybe sharpen up my sarcasm skills a bit, in a group they have to be dealt with differently.

Sarcastic know-it-alls in a group can absolutely destroy the learning environment. And these people range from being intentionally trying to destroy to innocently saying stuff that they would usually just say around friends, who would laugh. The most dangerous ones are the ones who speak up when someone asks a question, before I get a chance to answer. They usually say something like "do ya think?" They obviously know the answer, or think they do, and feel compelled to use sarcasm in a group, making the person asking the question feel bad. And not only does that make the person asking the question feel bad, I know that the feeling goes around the room, discouraging other people from speaking up for fear of being ridiculed. No one likes to be ridiculed in public, and made to feel stupid.

The solution, I found, takes a bit of self control, and some acting. You really have to ignore the sarcastic know-it-all and answer the question the other person asked normally, as if that's all you heard. Whether the sarcastic know-it-all was right or wrong, I ignore them completely. I answer the question calmly, and I know that man other people are wondering if I'm going to do anything else. Since I've ignored the sarcastic know-it-all, I've sent a clear message to them - shut up. It's a message that a sarcastic know-it-all understands very well, and if there are other sarcastic know-it-alls out there, they get the message, too.

If you yourself are wonderfully witty and sarcastic, please save it for your comedy act. Doing that to make other people feel bad, and stupid will just make the group wish that you weren't there. Sarcasm and knowledge are super-powers, and with great power comes great responsibility.

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