April 22, 2011

Expectations and passive behavior

Yesterday's events have me thinking about a few things, so I decided to write them down here.

First, one of the tough things about becoming an adult is figuring out how much we can reasonably expect from other people, because the standards of young adult relationships no longer apply. Sometimes I feel like everyone is letting me down. My friends don't care that I'm having a hard time, my classmates are off in their own worlds, my professors don't have time for me. When I'm feeling like this, I have to stop and consider the possibility that it's just me having unrealistic expectations. I mean, what is more likely, that everyone in my life sucks, or that I'm oversensitive and asking too much?

At the same time, I don't think I should just surrender and accept that I can't expect anything from other people unless I'm sleeping with them. I understand that many people feel they don't have time for anything besides their own careers and their immediate families, but I believe this is ultimately bad for everyone. Humans need supportive communities, and I will continue to work towards that ideal in my life. And since I'm fortunate to have several people in my life who do care about me and consistently come through for me, I know that I'm not the only person who wants reciprocal friendships and thoughtful colleagues.

And, there are times when my expectations are completely minimal and reasonable, and I have a right to be upset when people don't come through. Sometimes I am oversensitive and too demanding, but other times my reaction is completely justified, and the excuse that "I've been busy" is, honestly, crap. Nobody is too busy, for example, to send an e-mail saying that their plans have changed and they can't come after all.

This brings me to another thing I've been thinking about lately. Many people would rather avoid an uncomfortable conversation than admit that they don't want to do something, are unable to do something, or that they have a problem with something. Sometimes I feel like passive behavior is a plague on my life, and I am constantly trying to deal with people who will not be direct with me.

I have come to think of passive behavior as selfish behavior. When people are too shy to be direct, afraid to say no, and avoid conflict at all costs, they're putting their desire to not be uncomfortable ahead of the other person's need for honest communication. We owe each other direct, honest, timely communication, and it's selfish to withhold that communication because it's easier. People who are afraid to say anything that might be upsetting are not selfless martyrs who are putting other people's happiness first -- it's actually a problematic behavior that is unfair to other people.

That said, I am often afraid to upset other people and bad at confrontation. So I'm not saying that I'm always a direct, honest person. I'm as bad about this as anyone, just as guilty of passive behavior in some areas of my life. And I'm certainly sympathetic to people who have anxiety problems that make it truly excruciating to confront another person with something uncomfortable. I'm thinking about this because I want to unpack the reasons that passive behavior upsets me, and because I need to remember that I owe other people honest answers even when I'd much rather avoid the discussion.


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