“Sunday is the most passive day of my week.” A young friend made that statement a few days ago while we enjoyed coffee in my kitchen. The friend said it in a resigned, dispassionate manner.
“It’s because I was forced to go to church every Sunday. I was a rebellious child and my very assertive dad thought that religion would calm me down.”
“Oh no, it didn’t kill my spirit. I had to surrender to dad’s wishes–there was no other option. I became very resentful of dad and of the church. I kept these feelings hidden but they came out in other ways. I became a passive-aggressive kid.”
“I can relate. I was much the same way when I was a boy, too.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I didn’t figure all this stuff out until I did a lot of soul-searching after I broke up with my girlfriend.
My young friend and I shared about a minute of silence. Then he looked into my eyes and said, “Dad wants me to go to church with him this Sunday. I didn’t tell him I would, but I didn’t tell him I wouldn’t, either. But, I really don’t want to go.”
“You just want to keep the peace, huh?”
He frowned, raised his eyebrows, and shrugged–his signal that we should shift the conversation to a different topic.
I later contemplated my young neighbor’s conundrum. He’s quite the free-spirited twenty-something. He can see through the bluster of authority figures and doesn’t like what he discovers. This is one of the ways he and I are alike. Both of us become contrarians when encountering forceful people. Apparently, both of us still harbor passive-aggressive tendencies. We don’t like to play follow the leader.
We’ve all been in situations where something wrong and hurtful is taking place in front of us. Even though we don’t participate in the activity, we don’t intervene nor speak up against it either. Does that mean our passivity makes us enablers?
Every day, horrible things happen but bystanders and witnesses don’t speak out against them. Has passivity been mistaken as apathy? I think apathy is one of the most passive states of mind that people can have.
A culture of collective apathy is how a tyrant easily has his way with an entire nation. The population believes that the leader will eventually come to his senses and the country will just automatically return to the status quo. Of course, it does not.
Have you ever thought that the status quo can also be a state of controlled passivity? No thinking nor analysis is required when we go along with what tyrants demand of us. History books are filled with scenarios where despots recruited flocks of sheeple and then led everyone astray to ruination.
These days, we have television and the Internet, where we become lulled into a passive state. We are massaged and titillated with a constant reality show. The “program” is filled with fascinating situations and aggressive people doing harmful things. We are lulled into deeper states of passivity by watching strangers make fools of themselves.
“Passivity is the same as defending injustice.”–Deepak Chopra
When the program makes us aware of injustice and wrongdoing via social media, we might tap out our outrage in the comments section. Of course our words become lost in a sea of like-minded commenters’ words. The result is mass complacency because we believe we’ve made our opinions public. If we stop and think about this, we see how ineffective our words are because they are not shared with the people who really need to read them. We’re just grousing among peers. This is a form of passivity.
It seems that passivity is society’s default mode. I can rant and rave and write about passivity, but in the end, these words will get lost in the echo-chamber. On the other hand, we’re still able to reach beyond the status quo if we’re willing to sacrifice our passivity.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes psychologist and professor Philip Zimbardo. “Bullies may be the perpetrators of evil, but it is the evil of passivity of all those who know what is happening and never intervene that perpetuates such abuse.”