Passivity. It carries with it an immobilizing sense that there is no way out, that everything is beyond your control, that you possess absolutely no agency whatsoever, that others have all of the control and we have none. I have only been in the clutches of passivity once in my life and it was not pretty. I was in university, my undergraduate degree at King’s. I love the lectures in the Foundation Year Program but then I did not have the study habits and work ethic I have now, not even close. So I had high school study and work habits in a university context and I was falling behind in my reading. FYP, as we referred to then, required a lot of reading and if you fell behind one week you were doubly cursed the next. And so on...
I found myself becoming more and more passive, giving up on the avalanche of readings and papers and frustration came easy. Blaming others was my default itch and I made ample use of it. At one point my frustration came to a head and I confronted my professor. I told him it wasn’t fair, that the students involved in the Chapel, the “theologs” as we referred to them (high Anglican who made the Pope look Baptist) somehow had it easier and thus they were getting ahead and the rest of us were falling behind. The truth of course was this, people who were studying and reading were doing well and those of us who were not studying and reading were not doing well.
My professor understood what was going on and while he patiently listened to me he granted me no room for my groundless grievance. After my rant was over the professor calmly explained that whether one went to Chapel, knew the Chaplain, or enjoyed community with those in the Chapel the work that was prescribed by the professors was a requirement of the course and every student was treated the same, same expectations, same grading, no exceptions. Period. As the professor went through his argument I could see I had no leg to stand on. I could either accept his logic or get more frustrated and make a bigger fool of myself. I chose the former.
That experience has remained with me. Now when I find myself on the other end of that conversation I find myself using the professor’s tone, logic and patience. I simply refuse to buy into the drama of the conversation, the grievance is entirely on one end and the crux of the matter is passivity, not unequal treatment. Of course there are many times when grievances are real and the treatment we receive unequal. We need to be open as we listen to the possibility that those who are frustrated have a point. But when it becomes clear that the person’s passivity is what lies at the heart of the issue we need to be ready to clearly explain the circumstances. That professor would neither enter into my drama by becoming defensive or upset, he calmly laid out the real story leaving me to figure out my own responsibility.
There are medical reasons we can become passive and thus there can be medications and therapy that can help us to exercise more agency. But we can also go down that slippery slope of blaming everyone for challenges. Moving from passivity to agency is difficult. When we encounter someone who lays out for us the facts of our situation we can only hope some kind of transformation will take place inside us. There is always hope.