Communication is in trouble these days in the Anglo world. Public discourse is a sewer.
The problem is that confrontational people (assholes) want confrontation. They crave it like a drug. So how to fight these toilet people who flush their shit into our life, without giving them precisely what they want?
With passive aggression, that’s how.
In North America, social interaction has been hijacked by the aggressive cult of the expressive individual. By this I mean, there is a deeply ingrained notion that people are unique individuals whose self expression is valuable; both to themselves and society at large. That speaking one’s mind and sharing opinions is somehow critical to the human condition. It is not. This is purely cultural.
Being able to express and stand up for yourself is an important life skill, there is no doubt. However, such expression should be timely and necessary. We have created a society where thrusting the contents of our minds at people is not just a right, it is often seen as a kind of duty. “I just have to tell it like it is!” “You go, girl!”
The problem with encouraging everyone to speak their mind is that eighty percent of people suck. They don’t have anything pertinent or interesting to say, and yet take themselves very seriously and whinge over pettiness. Indeed, to participate in this grand dance of expressiveness, many folks go out of their way to make shit up to be mad about, just so they can thrust themselves at people. Making sure they are noticed trumps decorum, politeness, and social harmony.
We have been allowing psychotic narcissists to set the entire tone of our public discourse. Our conversations commandeered into an argument vehicle to give assholes a stage.
Let me illuminate this by way of a small sketch. The setting is my place of work.
Me: *Sitting reading*
American Coworker: “Hey! Check my new gizmal out! Isn’t it great?”
Me: *Averting Eye Contact* “Yeah. I guess so.”
AC: “What do you mean? It’s awesome! What kind of gizmal do you like?”
Me: “Well, I don’t much care, but I have this other sort of gizmal.”
AC: “What? Those suck! How could you like those? Only idiots like those!”
… continues ad infinitum.
The subtext here is clear:
American Coworker: “Hey! Guess what? Fuck you! I’m awesome and you suck! And I’m really awesome! So fuck you! And you suck.”
I have no doubt this kind of scene is taking place all over. The people who like to butt heads and really get their opinions out there barge into situations and take over everything. In bigger groups they tend to find each other and that’s fine. But so often, when left without one of their ilk to play with, their whole pathos turns into abuse of introverts like me.
Well, fuck them. I don’t play that game anymore. I smile and nod. Occasionally, return with a little bit of, “Hmmm… I suppose…” And that’s it. I think of my words and ideas as gold nuggets this asshole is trying to steal. Does he deserve a nugget? No, I think not.
Try this yourself with the assholes in your life. If you really want to twist the knife, tell them you disagree with them and then refuse to argue about it. Just end it with a polite, “well, we can agree to disagree about that.”
With no resistance to play with, the real arseholes will then try to instigate something by getting downright ignorant. They’ll throw out something patently offensive couched as humor. This means you are winning, but don’t let on that you know it and definitely don’t rise to their bait.
I like the deadpan blink for this moment. Just let your face go slack, stare, blink, then stare some more. Don’t say anything. Let the comment sit there like the turd it is, flung down on the table. This can be difficult, but force them to speak next; don’t diffuse this tension for them. Because they said what they did without thinking it through completely. Now their brain has caught up with their mouth and they realize how they look. This is best when there’s an audience, but it still works one on one. If you really want to add some “Fuck Off” to the moment, a smile at this point is a nice touch. Checkmate.
The message becomes clear: I am not giving energy to your bullshit.
Many arseholes will sneer at such tactics. But there is a reason why aggro, confront and conquer, types (and hence our society at large, these days) are so negative about passive aggression: it is their kryptonite. Passive resistance works. If you are going to invade my country, then I’ll defend it however I want, thank you very much. Attack my fortress of solitude and then chastise me for not fighting according to your made up rules of engagement? I think not.
There may well come a time with a person where it is time to get into it and fight. But remember: the more time you’ve spent letting them slog around in the mud by themselves, the easier that fight will be for you. You’ll have plenty of their own words to hang around their neck like a millstone.