Passive-Aggressive Hipster Language Is Upon Us All

Ah, sweet irenicism. Why would anyone want to pick a side when we can all just live in peace together?

Because peace comes through resolution and reconciliation. Passive-aggressive behavior only increases division and bitterness. I believe that Americans have lost, after the Baby Boomer break with our fathers, the ability to have resolution and reconciliation through frankness, conflict, and forgiveness.

Instead, ours is a society of passive one-upmanship in which the game is to get the other person to misstep and show that he is the one being mean and unkind. Once someone has been exposed in that way he must back down, humiliated. Because of this, conflict almost never happens. We usually see where our position will become untenable within the culture of tolerance, evaluate where our enemies stand on the same scale, then decide to back out if it seems that we might be shown to be unkind. The paramount goal of our verbal manouverings is to be the one who takes offense.

The best way to gain standing in a society like this is to constantly be bringing "tolerance" into focus, to make it appear as if there is hatred and anger and unforgiveness all around you while you stand in the storm as a rock of moderation.

This is so ingrained in us that, even if we are not always actively playing the game I described above, it shapes how we speak.

Am I talking about the business world? or academia?

No, mes amis. I'm talking about regular old life in society. I'm talking about community. I'm talking about the Church.

Take this sign, for example, versions of which have been flying around Pinterest for weeks (yes, I dig Pinterest, here's my profile). And if you're someone who has posted this or even used this in her wedding, don't be offended. I see the cuteness of it. But maybe consider the assumptions behind such a sign.

Look how sweet this sign is. It's all about unity. It's about two families becoming one!

You didn't come to this wedding with some sort of cruel agenda to be divisive by sitting with your friend's family, did you? Didn't think so. So pick a seat. Any seat. ANY SEAT!

Forget the built-in traditions of a wedding which have the families divided before the giving of rings, then generally mixed afterwards. You know, making two families one. You might have a better idea for the liturgy of marriage, or simply one you prefer for yourself. There's no reason your wedding has to be just like grandma's. But consider what a sign like this says.

Its very phrasing is manipulative. It's an example of how the way we speak has become passive-aggressive; we're always phrasing things divisively, paralyzing those who disagree but wish not to offend.

Christians should be all about positive phrasing. Unfortunately we've lost the ability to phrase things positively because saying "yes" or "it is so" is too strong. Saying "no" or "maybe" leaves us wiggle room.

This sign could have said, "Today, two families become one. Sit anywhere!" Instead, it phrases negatively. These are the effects:

  • It proclaims that the people having this wedding are better than other people who don't do this at theirs.

  • It suggests that those who seat families separately are not as loving as they should be.

  • It offends every little old lady who comes to the wedding, making her ask herself questions such as "Do they think I'm some kind of asshole?" and making her feel guilty about wanting to sit with her brother and his family, or maybe near that charming young man her granddaughter married.

Am I making mountain of molehill? Only a bit. It is only that I tire of how we have begun to use language.

Let us be open. Let us be generous. Let us be expansive and liberal and considerate whenever possible. And (here's my negativity, my prohibition) let's avoid prohibition. It's ought not to be "You can't pick a side". It ought to be "sit anywhere".

Let's be rid of the hipster language that assails us and speak plainly and openly. As in, "This is my party. Please, sit anywhere. Eat anything. Drink anything. Speak to anyone you wish." And let the Captains of Unity stop being aggrieved and resentful, and get back to their good work.


  1. I hadn't seen this sign before (although I'm sure I will; my wife's a Pinterest wizard) but I'm assumed the request to taking a seat and not a side is a reference to a same-gender wedding. But then again, who knows.

    Regardless, keep up the good work, Joffre!


  2. I assumed*

    But of course, I assumed you knew that.

  3. I haven't gotten that impression from the few versions of this I've seen. And in makes sense in a straight wedding context, since the respective families sit on separate "sides" of the aisle.

    Glad you enjoyed it, either way.

  4. Great post, Joffre :) Totally agree. When I teach first-year English, I'm always amazed by how many students frame their thesis statements in the negative — even when it's easier and shorter (which it almost always is) to make a positive assertion.

  5. Very cool post Joffre! The only thing that would make this better is a non-peach background. HAHA! Fantastic piece!

  6. love it! thanks for this. now I've got to "get back to good work" :)

  7. Well, I'll just say it, in the spirit of frankness and exhortation Joffre extols: why the profanity in the little old lady's thoughts, under the third bullet? Besides the apparent anachronism (though some old ladies can surely swear with the best [worst] of them), what did this contribute to this otherwise excellent piece? It served only to distract me, and I'm a fairly broadminded Christian Millennial. Since language like that does not build up or give grace to the hearers/readers, doesn't it qualify as corrupting speech (Eph 4:29)? Joffre's not the only one who has grown weary "of how we have begun to use language." I'm not a regular visitor to this blog, so I don't know if this is representative, but I would encourage Joffre to think carefully whether his patterns of speaking have been unduly infected by the culture.

  8. I have thought carefully about the use of that word. What's your problem with it? That it's uncouth?

    For what it's worth, my pastor and deacons know I use the word and others considered foul and do not disapprove. At least no very much.

    I've used it rhetorically, and, I think, to good effect.

  9. Hear, hear Joffre! I felt quite built up by your witty use of ironically uncouth language!

  10. Excellent!
    It seems every, EVERY decision that is made today is reason for a 'holier than you' demeanor.

    Who would have imagined that using or not using cloth diapers would become a religious event, that choosing the organic vs non organic tomato would become a religious decision. The list goes on and on- eating at McDonalds; family bed vs. everyone to his own; attachment parenting; vaccinations; schooling; cotton vs. polyester; paper, plastic, or reusable; regular car vs hybrid.

    No decision can be made simply on feasibility and cost- the choice becomes a spiritual endeavor.

    So, it is really no surprise that the one last thing to do before the children marry and head out on his and her own, is to take one more opportunity to preach about superior judgment and decisions.

    P.S. I like the 3rd bullet just fine.

  11. Dropping the wisdom bombs as usual. **** smarmy ***** that use their passive aggressive commandments to hijack something that's meant to be positive.

    editor's note: this comment censored, but left as a memento. I am happy that it flushed Mr. Hamilton out a little further.

  12. Umm...why don't we let Joffre explain why he doesn't want Conroy's language on his blog. Or maybe that's ok, too?

  13. One of the most dangerous forms of this is the type where people want to be inclusive in a situation where inclusiveness either truly just doesn't work or the people are hypocrites and want the appearance of inclusion and equality combined with facts of exclusion and inequality. Ex. I am the lowest ranking staff member at my exceedingly liberal workplace, but no one will said so out loud. Once upon a time, they were wise enough to want me to consult with a committee of our board of directors. They kept insisting that I was a member of that committee and I kept insisting that I was not. Some people became downright enraged because I would not say I was a member of the committee. I refused because I had no vote on the committee and it would, in fact, have been highly unjust for me to have a vote, and so therefore, I was not on the committee. I was instead talking with them and sharing information with them that they couldn't get any other way. I recall one woman in particular who kept having fits about my usage in this regard. It was so obvious that her real problem was that the clerical drone had seen through their hypocritical usage and was instead using more accurate terms. She was enraged that I was in a kind of worker revolt and there wasn't much they could do about it without resorting to actual open displays of power of putting down the workers.


  14. Whatever you do, don't say their game is stupid. To them it is deadly serious.


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