From time to time, I like to conduct social experiments.
Maybe it’s for the betterment of mankind, or maybe it’s just for my own amusement, or maybe it’s just to be a punk.
But one of my favorite social experiments is “Make Someone Passive Directly Verbalize What They Are Trying To Communicate.” What it essentially entails is playing dumb to someone’s passive attempt at communication until they verbalize directly what they want or what they are trying to communicate. Pretty straightforward. And pretty entertaining as well, to watch them squirm and circle around like an airplane that can’t land.
You see, I’m really good at reading people. I learned at a young age. I grew up in a home where what was communicated was hardly ever what was really communicated. Reading the wrong message meant that you got the “disobedience” beat out of you (this was pre-Jesus days for the folks). You learn to get really good at reading the unspoken message when physical harm is at stake. (But hey, it’s helped cultivate my therapy skillz of reading people! Heyooooo!)
Anyways, for a long time, if I read it, I catered to it. You hinting around needing this? You got it! No problem! You don’t even need to say anything, I’ll just do all the work for you! Not to mention that I was awesome at passive communication myself because that’s how I learned to communicate growing up.
This experiment just kind of happened by accident, really. I think I got tired of passive people hinting around what they want, without ever just coming out and saying it. And then at some point, I also realized, I’m not doing anyone any favors by enabling their passivity.
Listen, I get that passivity is characteristic, and some might even say a value, of Asian culture. I get that it’s considered rude to be direct.
But let’s face it: if you don’t advocate for yourself, no one will.
Sure, there will be enablers, like my former self, along the way who will interpret your passive message and just meet your every need without you ever needing to verbalize it. There are a lot of us in the world.
But when it comes down to it, who is a boss going to promote for a position? Someone who works hard and says, “Man, that sure would be nice!” Or someone who works hard and says, “I want that position and this is why I’m qualified for it!”? Or how much time are you going to waste in an unhappy relationship, hoping your significant other gets the hint when maybe they never will?
Case in point, when RJ and I first started dating, our relationship was all long-distance and over the phone. Initially, when RJ would ask after arguments, “We good?” I’d respond with, “Sure,” and we’d move on in our conversation. But the thing is, I wasn’t good. As we kept talking, I’d get more and more angry that he genuinely couldn’t just read my tone of voice and short responses and get that I was still angry. I mean, seriously? Take me at what I actually say? How…non-Asian of him!! I learned very quickly to just cut through the crap and verbalize what was bothering me. You waste less time in “Pissy Town” that way.
In dating and being married to RJ, I’ve also learned that if I say I forgive him but I really don’t, the burden of responsibility for making things right is on me, NOT him. I have no right to get all passive-aggressive at him if I’ve already said that I’ve forgiven him when I haven’t.
This lesson goes the other way as well. If you’ve (general “you”) said that you’ve forgiven me when you really haven’t, the burden of responsibility is not on me to make things right. It’s on you. You have no right to be angry with me if you say you’ve forgiven me when you haven’t.
In the past with my hyper-intuition, I could always sense when people hadn’t fully forgiven me when they say that they had. And I’d bend over backwards, double check, triple check to make sure we were okay, people-please like crazy, do anything to make things right.
And then I realized that I was the one doing all of the work when it’s not on me. I’m not the hold-up. And I’m not doing anyone any favors by catering to their passive-aggression. There’s value in finding your voice in relational conflict and learning to use it. And when I continuously rescue and take it upon myself to “fix the problem” when it’s not my responsibility to, I rob another of the freedom and maturity in finding their own voice to advocate for themselves.
Nowadays, if I wrong someone, I genuinely apologize, ask for forgiveness, and if they say they forgive me when it’s plain that they don’t, I walk away and I let it be. I move on. Because it’s not my problem. If you’re going to hold a passive grudge and get mad that I’m not “getting” that you’re still angry when you say that we’re fine, that’s not my problem. So you can either live with that grudge while I’m moving forward on your word that we’re okay, or you can say something and we can move past it together. Either way, I’m living free and I’m moving forward.
At some point, we all need to learn to find our voice and speak up for ourselves. We’re not doing ourselves any favors by remaining passive.
So it’s really for the betterment of mankind that I allow others to squirm until they verbalize what they are trying to communicate.
And also…maybe I’m just being a punk.