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Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm not Touching You
Stand-Up: Pete Lee - Passive-Aggressive Mascot
JokesJoke of the DayFunny Jokes

The other day I made a comment on my friend’s Facebook account about a mutual friend who was also commenting. As a joke, I said the mutual friend “used to” return my calls. I was being funny and trying to get someone’s attention. The mutual friend knew it. He called me passive- aggressive. I told him it was only passive-aggressive if you don’t fess up to being manipulative. Which I was. We all had a laugh. The fact is, I was being passive-aggressive. But it was with a close friend and he got the humor. Sometimes, only sometimes, when it is blatant and obvious, passive-aggressive behavior is a comedic device.

But it's not always funny. That little interaction made me think about passive-aggressive behavior and how damaging it is as a way of life. It’s one thing to be funny and it’s another thing to have a default mode where we manipulate as a strategy for getting what we want, escaping what we don’t want to do, not owning our own failures, or controlling another person’s emotions by playing on their sensitivities.

I find in ministry that passive-aggressive behavior is rampant. Maybe it’s because Christians don’t want conflict. Maybe it’s because Christians are supposed to “get along.” Maybe we feel weak or we feel oppressed and it’s a weapon in our arsenal that gives us the upper hand. Maybe we don’t want to scream, get angry, react, get even, or say the hard things so we kick in to passive-aggressive mode as an acceptable way of pleading the Christian 5th .

So, we strut around (or allow other to strut around) like the Christian Sydney Bristow’s of a religious black-ops mission where we disavow knowledge of our own covert missions to control people and situations and maintain plausible deniability while leaving people in a wake of selfishness.

The church is great at playing "I'm not touching you"--the game where we wave our finger in the face of someone else while not making actual contact. When they break, it's their fault.

Are you passive-aggressive? Do you know someone who is? Do any of these behaviors sound familiar to you?

  • Saying, “I talked to a few people and they all feel the same way”
  • Talking about others behind their back but treating them as if nothing is wrong in private—destroying their character from the outside in
  • Finding yourself conveniently forgetting what you agreed to so as to escape the conflict of admitting your error
  • Writing nasty notes on church comment cards without signing them
  • Pretending you’re ignorant so that the onus is on them to take responsibility
  • Calling the church office and leaving anonymous messages about what you don’t like and how you’re thinking about finding another church
  • Threatening to leave a church and reminding the pastor you tithe
  • Talking a lot about others’ faults under the guise of prayer concerns
  • Avoiding conflict resolution but spreading rumors about another
  • Telling people what they want to hear even though you plan on doing something your way later
  • Constantly renegotiating terms and agreements when you don’t follow through
  • Keeping silent in the midst of conflict
  • Smiling in heated arguments to shame a person
  • Feeling resentful towards others’ demands
  • Procrastination
  • Being chronically late
  • Deleting people you’re close to in social networks to send a message
  • Sarcastic remarks designed to hurt
  • Sulkiness that prompts people to ask often, “Is everything okay?”
  • Punishing someone with silence
  • Staying distant from others and isolating yourself in the midst of conflict
  • Subtle retaliation (you’re cleaning up but leave their mess out for them to put away on their own)
  • Saying, “I really need to talk to you about something” but leaving details out to make the person sweat until the meeting
  • Leaving out information when describing a situation to someone so the only facts they have are the ones that play to your advantage

Am I passive-aggressive at times? Sure. I have been. I’m not proud of it. It’s one of the sins in my arsenal along with everyone else. I’m not completely innocent. But, thankfully a concern for conflict resolution usually wins the battle for control in me at this point in my life.

The only way to deal with passive-aggressive behavior is straight on. Don’t shame. Don’t be angry. Don’t be passive-aggressive back at someone. Matthew 5 and Matthew 18 both give classic examples of how to deal with passive-aggressive behavior—in private, in love, with their best interest and the relationship at heart.

Truth be told, in tough case of passive-aggressive behavior, people usually aren’t teachable. They react to confrontation exactly how you would expect them to—denial, surprise, acting like you are attacking them, exaggerating what you said and how you acted when they tell others about the conversation, etc. If you are not in relationship with the passive-aggressive and they haven’t given you permission to speak in to them you have an uphill battle on your hands.

This may be the church’s greatest secret interpersonal communication sin. The only way to heal is to call it out and be ready to play the long game. It’s not an overnight cure.

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