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Take It Where You Can Get It

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
One time, a long time ago, a man told me that I was sometimes "passive/aggressive."

"Ah," I sighed, "somebody's been to the dentist, haven't they? Spent 25 minutes flipping through a copy of 'Psychology for Idiots!' Reading can be real, real fun! It makes the pitchers so much more innerestin', don't it?" As I spun smartly on my heel and left the room I thought that I heard him say he was all itchy. I don't know what that had to do with anything.

Well, I am I here to tell you that sometimes, in this modern world and in these stressful times, a person can get to feeling a little aggressive. Sometimes it is justified. Why, I remember one time when I had a little run in with a low level bureaucrat who thought she was the alpha and omega of her whole little world. I don't want to get into too much detail, and I certainly don't want to make anybody mad, but if you do not answer your phone, even though it is ringing during business hours, and I leave a message, you should listen to it. That's what answering machines are for. I mean, I know that they are real, real pretty, what with the little flashing lights and all, but really they are recording devices to which you are meant, eventually, to listen. For the purpose of an example, say that somebody calls you and leaves a message on your machine saying that they are keeping little Johnny home because he has a case of Whoopsy Tum-Tum. And then suppose that you call that person sometime in the next day or two and tell them that little Johnny will have to go to Saturday school because nobody called to get him an excused absence. Suppose you insisted that rules were rules, the line had to be drawn somewhere, there was zero tolerance, the policy was clearly detailed in the handbook. The usual party line. Would you blame somebody for suggesting, and quite politely too, what might be an alternative use for the answering machine. Since you didn't like listening to it. Nothing too passive there, you might agree.

But I don't like the way that kind of confrontation makes me feel about myself. If I do something like suggest a new and novel use for someone's answering machine I end up feeling weak and ashamed and sorry. And then add to all that the fact that I have to listen to little Johnny complaining about having to go to Saturday school anyway, and it is just no fun at all. That's why I would much rather swaddle my aggression in a nice, fluffy cloak of passivity. It is easier on me in the end. I can always fall back on, ". . . all I said was." I can, with little effort, see myself as being misunderstood rather than low-down and foul tempered. It is so much easier on my little ol' ego.

I might be a pretty unpleasant person sometimes, but nobody can say that I am not honest. I am also very willing to evolve. To try to do better. This sincere effort to be a better person, to control my smart mouth, has an unhappy side-effect. There is no outlet for the stress engendered aggression I often feel. Which, frankly, leaves me feeling antsy. Until today.

I have a whole new lease on life. Why? Because where I work the cafeteria is on the lower level. The lower level is designated on the elevator panel by "L." Somebody today asked me how to get to the cafeteria. I said, in all innocence, "Just get on the elevator and go to 'L.'"

Tee. Tee. Tee-Hee. Yup, get on that elevator and go straight to "L." All the way down to "L." How do I get to the parking lot? Go right to "L." Where can I get some chewing gum and a soda pop? You can just go to "L." Is there a pay phone around? You need to go to "L."

I don't ever have to be passive aggressive again! In fact, I can be super friendly and helpful and get all that crusty old aggression off my conscience without ever hurting anybody's feelings again. No emotional aftermath at all, either. In fact, I'm so tickled about this that I am thinking about giving up my job and asking for a job at the information desk. Helpful, helpful me!
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" >
February 16, 2007 Column
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