The first time I heard the term “passive aggressive,” someone used the term to describe me. I was in graduate school and was 23-years-old. This was back in the 80s. It was thesis time, and I had to type mine on a computer in the Iowa State Department of English computer lab. All the PCs were taken, so I politely asked a woman I didn’t know approximately when she was going to be finished typing. I think I said something like, “Do you have a lot to do? Will you be much longer?”
Well, the woman didn’t like that and said, “You can cut the passive aggressive crap. I’ll be done when I’m done.”
I was surprised she was so hostile, and thought to myself that she was probably unhappy across the board with her life. Or maybe she was just throwing her weight around. She was a professor, and I was a lowly grad student.
Eventually, someone (not the nasty woman) did finish using a PC, and I got on and did what I had to do.
I remember I called my best friend Jan and asked her what “passive aggressive” meant. I told her that someone had called me that. She got a kick out of this and said, “It’s when you’re being pushy in a nice way.”
O.K., that fit, I thought. I was being a bit pushy, and I was trying to do it in a decent manner.
Yesterday, I was at the beauty salon having my hair dyed, and the term “passive aggressive” surfaced in a big way. A stylist was telling the story of how a supposed friend kept telling her, “I can’t believe you’re a mother.” She must have said it a half a dozen times. That along with her facial expressions and tone of voice made the stylist feel it was a derogatory remark.
The owner of the salon weighed in, “Boy, is that passive aggressive.”
I do think that the stylist’s friend was more passive aggressive than I’d been. I was simply assertive — not insulting. (I hope.)
My mother had an aunt who used to be a bit passive aggressive. Her favorite compliment was, “That’s very slenderizing on you.” A passive aggressive remark, but she did cross over to “aggressive aggressive” when she said, “That dress doesn’t make you look like a horse.”
Aggressive aggressive is just plain mean.
A common passive aggressive comment in the grocery store can be “excuse me,” if it’s spoken nastily to a person who is blocking your way (maybe even accompanied by a roll of the eyes).
Mary, another friend, is a dentist. She said she had an employee who used to throw away her instruments and then lie when asked if she knew she’d done this. “Oh, my goodness, I had no idea I threw them away!” This was passive aggressiveness taken to the criminal extreme. Mary put up with this for only so long before she fired the worker.
What’s wrong with people these days?
These aren’t happy times. There’s a lot of frustration going around for a lot of reasons.
But this Christmas, it’s going to be nothing but peace on earth goodwill toward men with me. If I’m at all passive aggressive, I’m going to “cut the crap,” as that professor back in Iowa had told me to do.
This Christmas, may you experience nothing but joy.
May you give generously and receive graciously.
May passive aggressiveness be far away from you.
And may you mean what you say and what you say not be too mean.
Be nice folks. Not just at the holidays, but all year round.
Have a happy Christmas.