Aggression and Passivity in Modern Life

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend made this thought bubble up in my head: we make a base assumption that aggression = negative and passivity = positive. Obviously, that’s false when you give it a little bit of thought, but connotations run deep, and unless we explicitly set forth the context, it’s very easy to simply accept the false assumption as inviolable truth.

Therefore, I proposed this exercise: assign things to either or (as in either aggressive or passive) and don’t scale them (scales, as you know, tend to be subjective at first and slide their way into being considered objective truths). Here’s an example of some of the things we individually had to assign a value to:


A few immediate comments / questions are visible by this:

1. Would a difference in generation (i.e., culture, manners, expectations, goals, values, et al.) impact a response? Is “what’s up” a passive greeting to someone of a particular age and an aggressive to someone else?

2. How much of a role does medium (in person, phone, text, social media, videoconference, etc.) play on passivity and aggression?

3. How much of a role does context and direction play? (e.g. “texting” at a funeral may be a passive form of communication to someone who needs to give someone directions to the funeral but someone looking upon the texting would see it as a deeply aggressive act)

4. Does even the wording of the words, pun intended, capture the essence of nuance, e.g. closing versus slamming?

5. What aggressive acts do we all do and/or need to do in life and why do we not like to consider them as such?

  • Entering (note, not interrupting) a group of people to join in a conversation
  • Deciding who goes first when two people meet at a door
  • Responding honestly to the question of “how are you”
  • Talking loudly to be heard over an audience
  • Shouting “fire” in a theatre (note: without there being an actual fire, this is considered a criminal act)
  • Turning a car radio up while driving by in a quiet neighborhood with the windows down
  • Asking someone out of a date
  • Turning someone down when they ask you a favor
  • Refusing to yield to a pedestrian; refusing to yield to a car as a pedestrian
  • Knocking on a closed conference room door

6. Likewise, what passive acts do we engage in – are these the things that fall into the gray area of “social graces” which then allow for the smooth running of society but are fundamentally white lines or ‘minor’ untruths (the ‘glancing over of’) which, over time, build up into aggressive snapbacks/reactions which seem disproportionate?

I’m certain that some of these questions / comments have already been considered. Some may already have been fully asked in answered in research studies done in human behavior and interaction. However, I would like to take this from being a context-less thought exercise in human behavior and interaction and make it a practical discussion of the following specific areas:

I’m not ready to say much further on the topic today; this has been sitting in my notebook for a few weeks now and it feels very much like a many-tentacled thing that must be tackled in small bits. That said, I know this to be important because ultimately, it’s about people and how we organize, group, interact; it’s about how we live.

Technology, digital life, and modern life have cast a new layer, or two, and like refraction requires a calculation to adjust for, we need to find a way to figure out how these new layers are messing with age-old fundamentals.

What do you think?

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