The Pull of Passivity

The Pull of Passivity

MARRIS OPSAHL

Contributing Writer

mropsahl@goshen.edu

 

Looking back through some of my old writing, I came across a poem I wrote around Valentine’s Day last year. One line read, “To lie is easier than to love.” Seven months later, those words resonate with me just as deeply as when I first wrote them.

I don’t remember what was happening in my life at that time to put me in such a Shakespearean, “All the world’s a stage,” mood. But right now I am realizing that, for myself, lying is so much easier than loving. What do I mean by love?

I mean honesty, being open about yourself and your feelings, not simply commenting on the thoughts and feelings of others. Caring authentically, asking what people think they need before giving your advice, looking at people holistically rather than as a collective of isolated words and deeds. Authenticity is something I cherish, but do I practice it? Not as much as I should.

In a heart to heart with my cousin Samantha, she once said, “Marris, you are great at self-diagnosis. You know what you’re feeling, you know what to do about it. But you don’t do it, you don’t share it. You bottle this knowledge and let it implode inside you.” And for years, I’ve wondered, why do I do that? And why does it matter?

Both those questions are answered with one word: connection. Innate in everyone is a desire to connect, to “be real” with someone, to be understood and known. Brené Brown, a social worker and acclaimed author who researches shame and vulnerability, wrote, “The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

In my search for connection, I tend to lie, thinking that if people really knew my thoughts and feelings, I would lose them. Actually, I think it is more that if I gave them part of myself, then I could no longer control it or their opinion of me. So, while pretending to be expansive and emotionally available, I raise a barrier to certain parts of myself. Parts of myself that, more than anything, make me uncomfortable. That is what I mean by lie.

Honestly, this way of living works for a while—until I can’t connect. Until the fakeness and pretending becomes exhausting, until I realize I’m busy not because I want to be, but to avoid my growing sense of disconnect. Until I realize that what I fear most has become my reality because of my inability to risk truth. I fall into passivity.

In her book “The Waves” Virginia Woolf wrote, “To let oneself be carried on passively is unthinkable.” And yet we do it all the time—the lure of inaction is siren-like in its call. We tell ourselves that it’s in the best interest of others to let things go, to suppress our reactions, to let it blow over. Then we’re surprised when we find we can’t “be real” with that person; we’ve sacrificed love for lies.

Since re-reading my Valentine’s Day 2017 poem (trust me, you don’t want to read the rest of it), I’ve committed to seeking out examples of authentic, loving, honest lives. Just in the past week, I’ve been inspired by a myriad of people:

• An artist and poet who decided to claim her stage by publishing her creations on Instagram.

• A friend who took a completely unfamiliar job, admitting that failure was a possibility, but doing it anyways—and succeeding.

• Another friend who initiated a hard conversation instead of passively accepting a broken relationship.

• My mom, who stood against sexist dress codes at my siblings’ school.

• A survivor of sexual assault who chose to tell her story publicly for the first time in front of 25 strangers.

• Multiple friends who have decided to change their majors, finding that another path was best for them.

As I commit myself to avoiding lies of pseudo-self-preservation and instead pursue real connection, I admire these people. They have not succumbed to passivity and I am grateful for their place in my life, however distant that may be. They are everywhere and I encourage you to find them, connect with them, and offer them your honesty.

Written by Record

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