I am very passive aggressive. But at least I know it and don’t pretend otherwise. I’m the kind of guy who, when driving, will speed up when another motorist tries to pass me out of nothing but malice at the insult. I don’t speed up like a maniac - only a gentle acceleration, so the other driver can still easily pass me, but five seconds later than at his original speed.
I write things that I would never say face-to-face. First, because I am a better writer than speaker and, second, because I am too polite to say certain things in person. There is a great drawback in this at my work. For example, I am encouraged to say things to parents directly instead of putting them in writing, because a student’s written record is more permanent and follows him/her around for their entire academic career. The problem for me is that out of a sense of courtesy I decline to say face-to-face to parents what I am prohibited from writing in their children’s evaluations, and the result is that I rarely say what I really think about a student to anyone and the students and their parents have an incorrect impression of their achievements because the written report is skewed as a consequence.
In Japan, declining to express one’s real feelings/ideas (honne) is considered normal and a great virtue. Appearance, social façade, or polite fictions (tatemae) are more important, even though “tatemae” amounts to systemic falsehood. (Lying is a cultural virtue in much of Asia.) When I was a child and a student, growing up, I knew full well that school report cards were little more than a pile of crap. They still are today, but education professionals’ careers depend greatly on the perpetuation of a contrary idea. And the public laps it up. I do not trust that parents - then or now - realize what I knew full well as a boy. And now, as a teacher, I can say (privately) with the authority of a teacher that report cards are certainly a pile of crap, but I cannot say it publicly.
Perhaps you can see the grounds here for frustration-festering-to-aggression at the immoral hypocrisy of people, institutions, and the polite fictions of everyday life. None of this is to say that I am not/cannot be aggressive and rude face-to-face. I can do and I am so, but only in situations where the usual, civilized and polite channels of social intercourse have already been sufficiently corrupted. Consider these other examples:
For many years I have been collecting the pornographic fliers that regularly appear in my mailbox and then sending them in a plain brown envelope (with no return address) to a fundamentalist Christian preacher in Pensacola, Florida. He once sent me hate mail in response to a letter-to-the-editor I had published in an English-language newspaper here. His letter was sent to the newspaper and then forwarded to my address by them. Consequently, I know his address, telephone number, etc., but he doesn’t know mine, and I have made this little pastime my hobby based on the theory that he likes Japanese pornography. In truth, he has not informed me otherwise.
Many years ago in TokyoI was passing through Shinjuku Station during the morning rush hour. Shinjuku Station is one of the busiest commuter hubs in the world, although probably not the largest station. In those days, there were many homeless men camped out in the station day and night - mostly at night (for shelter). Not so today, however, because the Tokyo police roused them out in successive campaigns to clean the place up. On this particular morning there was a homeless man asleep stretched out on a step in a staircase. Hundreds of people were swerving to get around him. It was the morning rush hour, remember. When I came to the stair, though, I did not swerve but planted my foot squarely on his belly and stepped on him on my way up. I figured I was doing him the honor of serving his purposes. I mean, normal people would not do such a thing unless they wanted to be stepped on, so he ought to have been right pleased. Being stepped on is what the steps are for, after all. I acted out of brotherly loving kindness and went on my merry way without a backward glance.
Another time I was changing trains at Tokyo’s Nippori Station during the morning rush hour. Trains at this station are never so crowded in the morning as they are at bigger hubs like Shinjuku. There was no commuter press at all. As the train entered the station I stood up from my bench seat and stood in front of the door. We arrived, then stopped, and after a pause the brakeman opened the doors. The carriage was not crowded. The platform was not crowded, and I was moving at my usual pace, which is quite a bit faster than your average Japanese (I suppose because my legs are longer). But just as I was stepping from the carriage I felt a large, forceful push from behind - the sort of thing one only gets during the rush hour when the trains are so crowded that (in those days) platform attendants had to push passengers in with their white-gloved hands just to let the doors close. At this time and place a shove like that was completely out of place and uncalled for. It was gratuitous shoving, pure and simple. I was immediately furious and without hesitation I whirled around and shoved back without looking, then turned again and headed off to the exit. From the vantage of the up escalator I looked over my shoulder at the scene and saw the little old lady I had sent sprawling to the hard platform surface. The bitch! Well, she wanted to play and in a spirit of brotherly loving kindness I played with her. I think she was happy.
Again, in the early morning rush hour, I stepped into a train carriage and found a young man sleeping off his all-night drunk, stretched out on the opposite bench. I was on the train for 20-minutes to my destination and he did not move in all that time. When I reached my stop, there being very few other passengers on the train, I reached down, picked up the man’s shoes, and walked off. It served him right, I thought, first because public drunkenness is a crime (a tolerated one in this country), second because taking up too much space on the bench seats is a violation of basic etiquette (posters of which are often posted on the trains and in the stations as a gentle reminder), and third, because the very sight of him was an act of violence on his part. I gave the shoes to a homeless man in the station. I man, put them down by his head as he slept, like a gift from Saint Nicholas.
I have another anecdote - the Mother of all passive aggressive anecdotes. But its telling is yet to come. I know. I’m a real bastard. But I’m not the only one.