Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tandem bicycling and passive-aggressiveness

Happy Easter everyone!

Today I went tandem bicycling with my dad! I was very happy to try that out. Luckily the streets are mostly cleared out because it's Easter, so we didn't hit any cars.

I'm also going to ramble about passive-aggressiveness (passive-aggression? Passion-aggression?). If you read this and disagree with me, I'd also love to hear what you think.

Five years ago, I was with my school choir on tour in Hawaii, and I was rooming with three other girls. All of us had really, really different personalities. One girl was really brash and outspoken (she was Korean-American and criticized Korean-Korean girls for being too "fucking feminine"), the kind of person who would let you know if she didn't like you or if she disagreed with anything you did. Sometime during that tour, we were sitting in our room, and she and another of our roommates were talking about how "fake" our third roommate was. "She acts really nice, but she's totally the kind of person who would backstab you," was their opinion.

I actually was much fonder of the roommate being criticized than of either of my other two roommates. I had been a bit hurt by how the first girl had acted towards me, since she didn't like me much. At this point I asked them, "Don't you think it's better to be nice to people even if you dislike them?" And immediately the brash girl said, "Are you kidding? I've been burned by fake people so many times. I'd much rather know if someone hates me, than have them be nice to me and find out later that they actually hate me."

At the time I wrote it off as an American thing - valuing complete straightforwardness, at the cost of gentleness. It seemed ridiculous to encourage meanness just because it was more truthful. And then a few weeks later, I left a dorm meeting in my house counselor's apartment, closed the door, then noticed a sign on the door, and stopped to read it. From inside the apartment, I heard my proctors (they were a bit like RAs) start talking about me. One of them, who I had thought was really nice and who always seemed friendly, criticized me very loudly, and not in the way you criticize people that you generally like, or even just don't mind. Clear dislike.

Okay, that burned. And yet at that point I didn't believe that people could get hurt without anyone doing anything wrong. So I concluded that the only right thing to do was to like everyone, and then you could be nice to everyone without being "fake."

A couple things happened along the way. First, a Christian acquaintance (who was actually a very angry and irritable kind of person himself, but I think he had a valid point) reminded me that Jesus really didn't like the Pharisees. Second, I came to Stanford and met the first person whom I both disliked and failed to stop disliking. I still wish liking everyone were possible, but I'm sure more practical-minded people are sniggering at me already.

And now an alternative view has occurred to me, and I wonder if this is the right one: Be free to dislike some people, but just don't talk to other people about them. I guess this is merely a reformulation of the general rule, "Don't gossip," except that everyone's so fond of molding the word "gossip" to mean everything that they personally don't do...

Whew. If you actually read this far, thanks for dealing with the baby-sized links in that chain of thought. And do let me know what you think.