Friday, November 14, 2014

In Defense of Passive

You can't make this up, folks.
When I bought it, the walls of my new house gleamed gold upstairs, khaki downstairs, and bright pink in places. The accent wall in the dining room featured yellow and gold striped walls on top and mottled maroon on bottom. I considered it a community service to repaint those walls, perhaps even a patriotic duty. After poring through endless colors in catalogs and online, I finally decided on a very light, cool gray throughout. The paint’s name? Passive.

Perfect name, I thought. It’s a cool neutral, a shade that facilitates other colors without conflicting with them. It’s beautifully, harmoniously passive.

Plus, and this is just between you and me, it tickled me that my new walls celebrate one of my treasured personality traits.

I’m a passive person. When conflict comes along, I go all roly-poly. Rather than demand or confront, I instead encourage and suggest. Yes, I teach and yes, I have some pretty powerful political beliefs, but I prefer to influence others through gentleness and validation. I’m the original facilitator.

Americans aren’t too fond of us passive peeps. Americans in general – not everyone, of course, but speaking of mainstream American cultural – tend to value independence, forthrightness, audacity. We like stories of rebels, we value individuals over communities, we find inspiring those people loud and brash enough to ensure our personal rights get acknowledged and met posthaste. Heroes of all sexes are (metaphorically) large and in charge, loud and cocky. They say things like “Go ahead; make my day”; “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”; “Get away from her, you bitch”; and, of course, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

My office walls were once plum. Plum.
Like me, they're now gloriously passive.
Given the devaluation of my people, I feel compelled to speak out on our behalf. We may not step forward and demand it, but we deserve mad props. I mean, who do you think makes it possible for cocksure heroes to have their audience? Who smoothes the tensions between two or more non-passive folks? Who tirelessly works behind the scenes but can just as easily step forward and lead in a gentle, egalitarian way when needed? Brash, primary-colored people need us just as much as our American stories need them. We’re the harmony to their melody, the whole wheat bread to their sharp cheddar.

You’re welcome.

I think we in the West, individual-oriented as we are, tend to regard passivity as a weakness or an unwillingness to commit. If you’re not being aggressive and competitive, you must be a spineless victim-to-be, right? In fact, passive people aren’t weak-willed, boring, or insipid. We simply value situational harmony over individual needs.

Allow me to emphasize that, because it’s kinda key: We passive folks aren’t doormats awaiting the boot. We’re simply group-oriented people whose chief values include ensuring social situations run smoothly. So, for example, when we say, “I’m good with whatever you all decide” when people ask us where we want to go to dinner, we’re not saying we have no opinions or prefer others to dominate the social scene; we’re indicating we value the smooth-running of the situation above our not-very-firm opinions on the subject. We can find something to eat at whatever restaurant; it’s more important to us that most participants’ needs get met.

So, yeah, most passive peeps I know aren’t milquetoast people. Some of us are, in fact, deeply passionate and loving people with firm opinions on multiple topics. But many of us tend to orient ourselves toward the group rather than the individual, and we want to facilitate harmony rather than compete to get our needs met.

Sometimes neutral is the best starting point.
Besides, what would the world look like with a bunch of competitive, alpha people running around always taking up tons of social space? We passive peeps are the social glue that adheres diverse people in groups. In other words, we social facilitators keep the dominant peeps from killing each other.

Getting back to my new walls, I think they look fabulous. I love how coolly and quietly they sit in the background, matching whatever I throw at them and ensuring my bright colors don’t clash with one another. They’re the perfect facilitators, the ground zero for creativity and brilliance. Although I think of myself as a pretty colorful person, like my passive walls, I’m also content to quietly support and harmonize.

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