A New Direction for an Established Interest

calvin and hobbes

I am pleased to announce my acceptance to the Literacy in Education program at Rutgers University. While I hold a masters in English from NYU, the dominant focus of my studies, research, and employment has been founded on the idea of literacy itself: How do people acquire their skills and improve them? Reading comprehension is the core of writing’s strength. Without the experience of and access to a wide range of texts and writing styles, how can you develop your own voice–fact-based or fictional? It’s like a guitarist with no heroes or a poet with no muse!

I miss learning. I miss being in a community of learners. The inspiration to discover and to share those discoveries has been languishing somewhat. My corporate colleagues are all seekers of knowledge in some form and are involved in discovery and invention, but not all are in the same field of interest. I need to be able to be on the same wavelength with a similar knowledge base. The variety that they bring to our conversations is enjoyable and necessary for my own growth, but I am falling behind in my own field while they are moving forward in theirs. It’s time to flourish again!

The only way to do so is to rejoin academia—for me at least. For others, that is not the only option. It’s not necessary to be acknowledged by a formal body to have proof of learning, knowledge, or intelligence. It is, however, one way to at least prove two out of three (more on that another time) and to receive formal credentials with which to pursue career goals.

So let’s see if this returning student still has the chops to make the idea a reality. It may be that I don’t have the resilience that I once possessed. Or I may be better equipped now for the challenges, personal and intellectual, that loom. Regardless, I’m admitted and committed and it’s up to time and effort to produce the results.

“We must care enough to confront or we don’t care enough!” Tim McClendon, Pastor and Potter

I found the above statement in a blog post as I researched mainstream perspectives on direct and open communication. It all began with my last post and my concern about the limitations many of us put on ourselves and others in our own avoidance of discomfort or healing. This particular blog was on Southern passive-aggressive behavior and the classic “bless your heart” avoidance of frankness.

Much like the NY “borough Italian” upbringing of my youth, there is this idea that direct talk is too aggressive–that indirect statements lead to desired results without drama. But, no, this just creates a nervous “what if I misunderstood the cues?” angst–and no one will admit this because that is being too direct and open! The only difference I see between the Southern and Italian-American* way of communicating is that the latter treats it as an art from while the former just thinks its good manners.

The timing is also an issue. The passive aggressive statements are often an ambush. They are not offered with constructive intent or in a time frame that could contribute to a solution.  They are often belated. Snipes scheduled to cut. The recipient cannot easily respond without seeming reactionary or emotional–thus, deserving of the cut.

I find that my blood pressure goes up exponentially and my manners go out the window in the face of passive aggressive behavior. It’s disrespectful in my eyes and I, unfortunately, lose respect for the person. I’ve been told that I am extremely aggressive and hard to approach when someone has a complaint. That comes from people who are not direct talkers. It is from people who hold onto real or imagined slights and wait until I have complaint to bring theirs forward. Why hold on to something? What if I keep doing that over and over because I don’t realize I’m doing it or that it is upsetting? Direct people never stop being direct with me and I tend to understand how to act with them and what their needs are.

McClendon mentions a time that his father just stewed as a woman took liberties photographing pottery in the museum he was running. Instead of putting a stop to it, he let her run rampant then said something to the effect of having her stay for dinner while she’s at it. She accepted–not realizing he was being passive aggressive/sarcastic. Or maybe, being rude to begin with, she had no compunction about saving money by eating with them. He then proceeded, behind her back, after she left, to fume about her.

But, as McClendon pointed out to his father, he invited her! He allowed her to run roughshod over him initially and then accept insincere hospitality. In fact, direct confrontation might have created a different outcome. Perhaps, having just been overly enthusiastic, she would have been embarrassed and polite once she had been confronted–politely. Instead, the only good thing I can find in this is that the passive aggressive behavior backfired and the father did not get any satisfaction from it. The possible middle outcome: She was still a rude person but he stood his ground and cut short her infraction.

Confrontation is not bad in and of itself. It’s making sure that everyone is on the same page. We don’t always know we are being inappropriate or upsetting. We do, however, dislike being told belatedly about trespasses or things that might not have been if direct communication came into play. Passive aggressive saves up ammunition. Respectful confrontation stops problems and prevents patterns.

*I use the term Italian-American because I can’t speak for Italians everywhere in terms of communication. I can say that the kind of “indirect speak” that people witness in The Godfather and The Sopranos (complete with knowing look and pause) is what I grew up with—although with much less dire consequences when misunderstood!

If you’d like to read more from McClendon’s blog: https://wtmcclendon.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/southern-passive-aggressive-behavior/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-5