Flippancy, often taken as frivolous insincerity, can serve as a protective façade; an emotional cloak that behaves like a dam against tears. That hidden function can mislead the casual observer, and even those intimately familiar with the purveyor of flippancy, into thinking flippant remarks offer evidence of good humor and strength. In fact, the opposite may be true. Glib comments may be used as armor, providing protection against an embarrassing meltdown in the face of high-tensile stress. The more confident and brash the speaker, the greater the likelihood he feels that fissures are beginning to form in the skin of his protective shield.
Yet flippancy does sometimes confirm hard-nosed impudence. It is impossible to look beneath the surface to see motive. Context becomes critically important in differentiating fortitude from fear. But even in light of context and intimate knowledge of a person’s circumstances, the odds of misreading—in either direction—are high. Probing and sometimes awkward and uncomfortable questions may lead to the aforementioned breakdown (verifying the use of flippancy as armor) or to the anger one might exhibit in the face of accusations that he is lying.
So, how is one to deal with flippancy? Perhaps the safest and most compassionate thing to do is to walk on eggshells. Neither accept flippancy as genuine frivolity nor classify it as armor. Tread lightly. Do not be quick to assume a person is sheathed in either an impenetrable steel-hard case or in a fragile shell on the verge of explosive collapse. Be observant and, if reality reveals the latter, available to help pick up the pieces. That’s my advice to myself.