My 11 year old daughter looking right at me, said this: “did you throw that (crumpled piece of paper laying on the living room floor) away?” “Yes,” I said, “I did.” “Papa, did it have ‘please throw me away’ written on it?”
My daughter has a very clear connection between her authority and her loving. She doesn’t hesitate, apologize or explain, and she isn’t passive about anything. She simply shows up. Passivity is a disease. It keeps you living in ‘what might have been’ or ‘maybe tomorrow.’
Passivity can look like passive compliance – just go along to get along – or it can look like a sharp knife turning against a partner with precision like analysis and diagnosis. Why do I call this last behavior passive?
I call every relational strategy that isn’t proactive, that doesn’t move the conversation toward a solution, that blames others or distances yourself from them, passive behavior. It’s not surprising to me that so many disguise their passivity with reason, or attack, or analysis of their partner.
We’ve been taught to do that. Many of us survived in school by learning passive strategies. We learned to ‘not cause trouble,’ or we learned to passively comply with lessons or tasks we saw little value in. We lived in a system that honored passivity – “Stephen’s a good boy,” and punished those who expressed their individuality and ideas.
Passive compliance is a very dangerous attitude. I’ve talked to business owners who complain about the economy and I’ve challenged them: “how many of you have written to your congress person or even to the president to express your ideas?” Answer: none, so far.
Business owners cannot be the inventive, creative, aggressively imaginative force they need to be if their dominant attitude is passive compliance. And, you know what, their marriages will suffer as well. I meet their partners and their first complaint is passivity in relationship.
You can do something about it. You don’t have to live with passive compliance as if it were a disease. Do an inventory, right now as you’re reading this. Make a list of all the role models who wanted you to comply instead of stand up. Get a notebook and start writing letters to each of them. Tell them who you are and why their wanting you to ‘obey’ or be good, or be appropriate, or to ‘try to get along’ – tell them why that wasn’t good for you.
Then make another list. List all the things you believe that you do not say out loud. Make a list of deeply held values that you keep to yourself. You might want to share them with a trusted friend, your partner or even a professional coach. Determine for yourself that your life is no longer going to be lived in a closet you built long ago. As the writer Albert Camus said “If you ask me what I came into the world to do, I will tell you. I came to live outloud.”
Learn and admit what you have to say No to. Then practice saying outloud all that you have in you that you can say Yes! to. Strengthen that muscle and you’ll soon leave the passive compliance disease behind.
When you’re on your way, give yourself a standing ovation.
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