Monday, December 7, 2015

Passive aggression

I know, it's supposed to be "passive-aggressive" and not "passive aggression".

But here's the thing: the easiest person in the world to lie to is yourself. That's counter-intuitive because you know you're lying when you lie to yourself so you should be able to catch it. You don't catch it, however, because you are co-operating with the liar. The fact that you and the liar are the same person makes that co-operation ridiculously easy.

That is why we all mess up on passive-aggressive even though we know what it means.

It doesn't help that words tend to have different volumes. "Passive" is a rather passive word that meekly fades into the background and "aggressive" makes a lot of noise. When we use the expression, we hear the following:
And all we can we think about is the aggression. I think we can get a better grasp on it if we think of passive as modifying the aggression.

The mistake is to think that passive-aggressive means to put up with a lot of nonsense until you can't stand it anymore and then you lash out irrationally. That's not actually what it means. Of course, that is something that we all do. And that kind of explosion is always preceded by genuinely passive-aggressive behaviour. But genuine passive-aggressive behaviour usually doesn't produce that sort of explosion. It's analogous to the relationship between reckless driving and accidents—you could drive recklessly for years without having an accident.

And for most of us, it certainly is for me, the real problem is not the explosions that rarely but occasionally happen but the stuff we do all the time without any serious consequences.

If you think of "passive" as modifying "aggression" you get a better image. Now, that passive is shrinking that aggression rather than meekly disappearing in front of it. For that is what passive-aggressive behaviour really is. It's the habit—all virtues and vices are ingrained habits—of saying "yes" when you really mean "no". And then you start failing. You forget to do stuff, you do it poorly, you procrastinate. None of this seems aggressive because it's all so passive.

And the solution, perverse as this will seem, is to stop being passively aggressive and become bluntly aggressive. The solution to being passive-aggressive is to start saying "no" much more often.

More to come ...

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