Passive people. Hmmm… Think ostriches. A business colleague told me recently that she thought I was the passive and calm type. I didn’t like it. I didn ‘t like it one bit.
True, she hadn ‘t known me for very long and her observations of me were all within one limited situation. But she ‘s an astute and experienced person, so I took her comments seriously enough to warrant reflection.
Why didn ‘t I like it? Well, my business training kicked in, which told me in at least two ways that it ‘s bad to be passive. Consider these examples.
Is Being Passive Wrong?
- Traditional Assertiveness Training which I teach, practice and believe in makes a distinction between three types of behaviour: aggressive, assertive and passive. Aggressive behaviour is ego-centric, power-greedy, and wins at the expense of others. Assertive behaviour values both the self and the other in terms of rights and need-fulfilment, striving to achieve win-win outcomes. But passive behaviour gives away all rights and power to others. It is the mentality of perpetual victimhood.
- Then there ‘s Stephen Covey ‘s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. The first of which is the habit of pro-activity. Being proactive means taking responsibility for every aspect of your life. Initiative and taking action will then follow. It ‘s the opposite of being reactive, which means you blame other people and circumstances for obstacles or problems.
- Finally, there is the unflattering synonyms available for the word ‘passive ‘ on my MS Word thesaurus: inert (sluggish), submissive, flaccid (limp, flabby, drooping, sagging), lifeless. Euuw
So passive is not a good place to be. But it started me thinking. Are there any ways in which it is good to be passive? I think there are.
Passive People Are Calm
A passive person can be composed in the face of fear or danger, serene, like the traditional Buddhist monk. It is healthy to relax, to learn to control your responses. Passive people are not prone to dangers of stress and anger.
Passive People Are Satisfied
Being passive is the opposite of striving, of restlessness to achieve some goal, then another, then another, never resting in the contentment of now. Goal-setting is a good discipline, but enjoying the ride is better.
Passive People Are Unbiased
Passivity requires detachment, a standing apart from life in order to objectively observe and analyse. People who are only active are always totally involved, submerged in themselves and their projects. They tend therefore to be blind to themselves and how they are perceived.
Passive People Are Spontaneous
For proactive people, everything must be premeditated and planed. But where is the space for impulsive, reflexive decision-making in this world? Covey ‘s world purrs like a well-oiled engine, but I am much more than a machine.
Passive People Are Indifferent
There are things in this world that are not worth caring about. I would even dare to say that most things fall under this category. Broadly speaking, an attitude of apathetic indifference and passivity is exactly the right way to approach celebrities, advertising, the tabloids, TV, fashion, Hollywood, workplace gossip or the size of your neighbour ‘s car, if you want to sustain your happiness.
Can I reconcile this healthy passivity with a helpful activism? Here ‘s what my favourite philosopher has to say about it.
I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers. May looking away be my only form of negation! And, all in all: I want to be at all times hereafter only an affirmer! Zarathustra in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra
What do you think?
Image credit: boff_hiroshi.