Ecdysis

What I'm Thinking About

Hiding Behind Sarcasm

Towards the end of a 6-month trip I took to South America this year I started to think more about my relationships, and relationships in general. Something about the conversations I was having with people while traveling was more enjoyable. Travel conversations usually start of with small talk, but can progress quickly into much deeper areas, like the meaning of life, the reasons for working, and the things you don’t like about home. Conversations with the people I had been friends with for longer tended to be about sports & things that had happened recently or were going to happen. Topics that were not as engaging or, in my mind, as important.

Beyond just being more interesting I noticed that there was something else missing from travel conversations… insults. My conversations at home so often included teasing and I relied how refreshing it was to talk without insults. Instead of the word insult people call it teasing, giving people a hard time, or messing with people, but in reality it is the same thing as verbal abuse. People using words to tear someone down for their own benefit. Over time, in groups where people spend a lot of time together conversation changes from people sharing their feelings, thoughts, & goals into people insulting each other, being sarcastic and tearing each other down.

What makes the communication change from one of curiosity and openness towards others into cynicism and coldness? What makes conversations with fellow travelers more enjoyable than with coworkers?

When you are talking to someone in a hostel, in a gym, at a party, or on the street you are very aware of your choice to be in that conversation. You can always choose to leave, or to simply stop your conversation whenever you lose interest in it. In groups of coworkers, schoolmates, or long establish social circles, there is a sense of obligation about the relationships, like you have to interact with these people and that is when negative communication like sarcasm, and bullying appear.

At work, or at school people lose the sense that they are voluntarily interacting with everyone around them. People going to work start to lose interest in the people they are around all day, then they start to lose empathy, and eventually start to lose respect. People may decide to censor themselves to avoid a disagreement with a coworker, and that self-censorship will quickly turn into resentment.

Even if you enter a group with the intention of communicating positively it is really scary and hard to always stand up for yourself. Telling people your feelings are hurt, will inspire the group to tell you to not take things so seriously, and will probably lead to you being excluded.

Sarcasm, cynicism, and being mean to people in groups are socially acceptable and very popular. They inspire laughs from the bystanders and may help you gain traction in a group, but they are without a doubt negative communication. We like to pretend that you can lovingly be mean to people around you, that you can jokingly call people fat, or ugly, and because the people around you laugh you think it is okay. The victim of the bullying feels hurt but is scared or unable to express that pain because the person is “just joking” and their is a group of laughing people all laughing, giving sanction to the insults. Despite what we like to pretend insults do hurt people.

The sad thing is many people do insult people they care about. People are too scared to express that they care about someone so instead they insult them. People are too scared to say that their feelings are hurt to the person responsible so they talk about that person behind their back. People are to scared to admit that they are sad or in pain and instead are mean, and sarcastic with the people around them. All they need is some compassion from the people around them, honesty and authenticity, and a place to feel like they are cared about. But it scary to admit that to people, so instead we push people away with sarcastic comments and mean jokes.

I’ve noticed myself doing all of these things more and more. I hide behind cynicism, sarcasm, and insults because I’ve been losing touch with empathy for others, and feeling too scared to communicate my actual feelings. It is the culturally acceptable way to deal with pain, so it is easier in some ways. Going against the crowd is scary. People might call you boring, or not funny, tell you that you take things too seriously. But in avoiding sarcasm and communicating positively you will build stronger healthier connections with people. People won’t have to decipher that your insults mean you care about them, because you will communicate that to them. Your honest expression of your feelings will inspire the same from the people around you.

Lambasting Labels to Lift our Limitations: Thoughts on Being a Procrastinator

I was talking to a coworker at work this week, and they complimented me on my discipline. It felt weird hearing someone telling me that I am disciplined, when I have thought of myself as undisciplined for most of my life (and still a little bit now; I put off starting this blog post for 6 hours…).

When I was in university I procrastinated essays and studying to the very last minute, sometimes even beyond it, taking late penalties because I wouldn’t or in my mind couldn’t start a project. I would avoid thinking about deadlines approaching, until a day or two before. Often, with an essay due in the morning I would be sitting in the library at 9pm with no words written at all.

I would watch my friends, roommates, and girlfriend start on projects in advance and finish them with time to spare and think there was something wrong with me. Everyone I observed seemed to posses an ability to properly schedule and complete projects. I felt isolated and somehow different. I gladly took on the label of someone who procrastinates.

The word procrastinator is thrown around a lot at universities. It is used as a label of a personality type. Someone who waits to the last minute to begin, or complete a project. From my experience people talked about it like it was a fixed characteristic or some sort of condition, something you are afflicted with, like blindness, not something you have control over. I heard advice on how to manage it, but never any discussion of procrastination as a response, or a result of some factors in my life.

 

Labels, like procrastinator, make it easier to understand the world around us. They help us pretend, or at least think of the world as black and white, as static instead of the complex ever changing world that we actually face. The label procrastinator means someone who typically does not allot themselves enough time to complete projects to satisfaction. The label saves us fifteen words, but more importantly than that it saves us from introspection into ourselves and from the follow up questions that would probably result from others if we described the actions instead of the labels. When I tell you I am a procrastinator it implies a fixed state of what I am, in the same way it would if I told you I am six feet tall. It implies something static and permanent, doesn’t inspire further inspection. When I tell you I almost always leave projects to the last minute and even then spend time distracting myself to avoid starting them, I imply that those actions have a reason behind them, and you may be inclined to ask why?

Why would you avoid thinking about a project in the lead up to it, and then have very strong urges to be distracted, to continue avoiding thinking about it and tune out?

Tuning out, or losing yourself in distraction is a stress response. In the face of stress that doesn’t go away your mind will try to escape. It is natural to feel some stress in the face of a large, or very important project, but to feel so much stress that you shut down and tune out for almost every project you face means that you have way to much riding on the results of these projects, and you don’t see a high chance of success.

 

I was extremely stressed by essays and tests in university (a procrastinator), for a number of reasons. I was told from a young age that I was smart; another label that downplayed the importance of situational factors and implied, in my mind, a number of things. To be smart meant being smarter than others. Since it was a positive label it made me feel good about myself, I became attached to the idea. “I am smart” became, in my mind a permanent feature of who I was. So, to write an essay and receive a bad mark would make me feel like a terrible human being because it would mean the thing where my value came, being “smart”, one of the defining features of who I was, was actually not true. With every project, my value as a human being was on trial and that was stressful enough to make me avoid thinking about projects.

Procrastination had another benefit as well. By never working as hard as the people around me I had a reason to believe that I still was “smart”, I just didn’t try as hard. I told myself that if I did try I would have got as good of grades. So on top of stress making me want to escape, I actually had an incentive to not try as hard.

During university I though of procrastinating as being lazy, but now I see that it has much more in common with the more positively thought of, but comparably destructive label of a perfectionist. The procrastinator, like the perfectionist views their performance as a statement of their value as human beings. They always look for the things that are missing from their achievements instead of appreciating what they have. The perfectionist goes through life striving and working for a satisfaction they will never achieve. While the procrastinator never strives because they are to stressed by the risk, and they figured out that they can maintain the illusion of their identity in their heads if they don’t put much effort into succeeding.

People build associations around labels like procrastinator, and perfectionist. Perfectionism becomes attached to high achievers, and success, while procrastination takes on laziness, and failure. The labels blind you from the reality of the actions these people are taking, and the things they have in common. The labels lead us to be passive, to define ourselves and others with labels that came from others and our actions in the past. When you think of labels in terms of actions, a perfectionist is someone who cannot accept anything but an unachievable perfection, they are driven past the point of good enough because they attach almost all of their personal value to the results of their next project. A procrastinator is someone who avoids starting projects as a result of the stress they feel because they have attached almost all of their personal value to the results of their next project. Removing the label allows us to see the commonality in things we though were different. It allows us to understand and have more compassion for the struggles of others, and it allows for further introspection, understanding and growth within ourselves.