Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Passive VOICE

For those who think in these terms at all, “passive aggressive” is one of those ways of dismissing someone for whining, but the truth is, “aggressive” is truly a key point in the term. Passive aggression is far more than the martyred reverse psychology of a sitcom, it’s a strong social weapon so effective it can even be devastating.

I sat in a meeting one time with someone who used to bug the bejeezus out of me; not someone in my group, not someone I really had to deal with to speak of, but someone whose very name set my teeth on edge. The prospect of talking to them would enact anxieties that had nothing to do with anything, except that they upset me (and, I am convinced by the experiences of others) *meant to*.

As a woman, I have used passive aggression to head off difficult situations at times – when passing someone, looking down (which is not always a submissive posture, by a long shot*) – ostentatiously demonstrating deafness to certain approaches – gazing in blank, expressionless incomprehension at other approaches. Passive aggression can absolutely wither someone who thinks that any social entre’ will necessarily get some response, any response. *And refusing to see someone trying to catch your eye is as strong a rejection as overt ostracision. That person I once worked with would open a floor to response, but continue talking without pause, looking pointedly away from any eye contact, and thereby shut down all but the most intrepid colleagues … or actually make others appear rude, when they had to interrupt to contribute.

It can be a devastating strategy. It can get people so jumpy about another person that interpersonal undercurrents become rivers, and carry others away emotionally when they “KNOW” there is no reason to get so uptight. It can keep a strong woman safe if she feels alone and doesn’t want to feel *weak* - and it can alienate completely.

The Silent Treatment is an especially bitter weapon humans are able to use against one another, and one of the threats that can lead to conformity, direct aggression, submission, and unexpected rage or destruction. To shut a person out, as a group or just one individual to another, is perhaps the ultimate expression of power and control. “You have fallen short” becomes an insupportable exile, denied fire and water for eight hundred miles.

I’ve shut people out of my life; indeed, one of the more bewildering things about FaceBook, for me – apart from extreme security issues that give me the IT nerd willies – is its potential (nay, likelihood) to make it possible for any of the less useful friends from my foolish youth to crop up at any time. It takes work, this kind of passive aggression – ask any man who ever ignored calls from the date or conquest he had no further use for, or any homeowner importuned by a homeless abandoned cat. Emotionally, as effective as ostracision can be, for the non-sadistic, it’s not particularly a pleasure. But sometimes, relationships must end – and they don’t always end easily.

Sometimes, of course, the aggressor is just swinging their privates, to prove how big they are, and people who serially just cut people out of their lives, one by one, may just be avoiding what’s actually wrong with their lives rather than curing anything. And they end up ostracized, themselves, because their concern for control has crowded out life itself – which, though messy, is undeniably a more worthwhile business than solitary confinement in the ever-narrower concerns of a life, in the end, really left un-lived.

When I was younger and prettier, I took great pride in the ability to be an Ice Queen; in the fact that I didn’t get bothered much by strangers, and was able to prevent uncomfortable situations from becoming outright dangerous, with the strategies mentioned above.


I came through young-and-pretty largely unscathed, but hit that link for a look at what “unscathed” means in the culture we live in, which I’m persuaded is not getting easier. Insofar as passive aggression is the “feminine” weapon so often pejoratively portrayed in poor writing, I used it as well as could be expected.

The older I get, though, the less I want to render those around me invisible by these methods. It is fortunate that there is nobody like this wandering around my lifescape these days, and that I can speak and act in other ways than silent cutting.

And the older I get, the more bewildering it becomes when I encounter those who do still employ/enjoy/indulge such plausibly-deniable cruelty and control. Those who cut deep, yet who would leap up – shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at the idea they ever intended to wound.

If you have a sound voice, you don’t need to remove others’ ability to speak.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This really hit the mark. I've been on the receiving end of The Silent Treatment, and I experienced all those feelings you mention (not actions, hallelujah). And now that you mention it, FB really can be a tool for that, can't it? I never thought about it that way before, and maybe, maybe that's why we ALL get so annoyed with it!