Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

It happens to all of us that at times we have something difficult to say, something that might be unpleasant for others to hear. How should we go about expressing ourselves? There are three basic ways to do so, which correspond to the three main modes of material nature, as discussed before. These three modes are passivity, aggressiveness and assertiveness. Corresponding qualities connected with each mode of expression are given below.

Passivity Aggressiveness Assertiveness
scared abrasive bold
insecure Cocky confident
Nervous Harsh considerate
Inhibited Bully secure
Anxious Arrogant empathetic
self-deprecating Insensitive straightforward
Indecisive Loud honest
Weak Obnoxious courageous
Fragile Selfish open

It is obvious that assertiveness is the most desirable form of expression. Consider the following example. Say that Robert has agreed with his wife Lisa that he will be home from work at 6 p.m., and that he will call if he is late. How will she react when he comes home at midnight several nights in a row without calling her? In a passive mode, she may not say anything out of fear of

disturbing the peace, whereas inside herself she may be building anger and mistrust. This is related to the mode of tamas, which is characterized by fear and inactivity. In an aggressive mode she may scream and threaten Robert. This correlates with the mode of rajas, symptomized by reactivity.

Neither of these modes is likely to create productive communication. If Lisa is passive, Robert may not even be aware that there is a problem, and may appreciate his wife for her tolerance and understanding. If she is aggressive, decent communication is likely to be hindered as well, and Robert may either withdraw or answer with hostility from his side. None of these exchanges—fight or flight—culminates in frank and satisfying discussion.

With passivity, Lisa’s implicit message is: “You count. I don’t.” With aggressiveness it is: “I count. You don’t.” Assertiveness conveys, “You matter, as do I.” In assertiveness we take a stand, make our voice heard, in a way that honors others. Assertiveness is simultaneously bold and empathic, courageous and considerate. This quality of assertiveness is inherent to our integrity as human beings. A life of integrity entails expressing what we are meant to express in an honest and gentle way. Lacking this, we live a life controlled by fear. Integrity also demands that in expressing ourselves we are respectful of others, and that in claiming our rights we also honor the rights of others. Assertiveness means that even if we are expressing a truth that may be difficult or painful for others to receive, we are not doing it in a hurtful way. It is possible to speak about that which is unpleasant without actually being unpleasant. Rather than attempting to do damage, we endeavor to understand and to be understood—from a place of compassion.

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