Passive aggressiveness and higher social economic class.

Has anyone noticed that people become more passive aggressive the higher their social economic class?

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, but I went to school with lower-class kids. I also spent a lot of time working in a liquor store, where the customers were mostly from the lower-middle class. Now I go to law school with people from the upper-middle class range.

I can tell they are different from what I’m used to. What I’m trying to figure out how they are different. My working theory is that they are more passive aggressive. They are less likely to be confrontational, and will stick to social politeness as long they possibly can. They also depend on social conventions a lot more than the people I grew up with.

If I were to do something out of ordinary in front of a working class guy at my liquor store, I’d get called on it very quickly. Something like (think Paulie from The Sopranos) “Oh! I come here everyday, you don’t even say hi?” If I were to ignore a law student the same way, no one would even comment. At times I would say something weird , to make the conversation seem more fresh (my trademark is non sequiturs), and people would quickly ignore it and more forward with their conventional conversation. No one would challenge me or pick up on my train of thought on floppy cats (someone mentioned they liked something because it had a floppy quality, so I made the connection to cats).

If I did something out of the ordinary when I was younger, I would get called on it and then I would have a chance to explain myself. Usually I had a good reason for what I was doing. Now, people just ignore me. No one asks me anything so I have to assume they have no clue why I’m doing something differently. Which could make them think I’m a weirdo.

I can also look law students in the eye for considerable periods of time without the looming threat of violence.

This passive aggressive dismissal of all things different seems to drive conformity. So it might just be a law school thing because the profession probably needs conformity to build confidence in the legal system (however shallow). Or it could be a rich people thing.

Has anyone who moved through social classes notice anything like this?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and in my high school, people tended very much toward the passive aggressive side. However, in college I became friends with folks from some rougher areas and realized how refreshing the lack of passive-aggressiveness was. I became a lot more comfortable just asking questions when I wasn’t sure about a situation/conversation/etc and realized how much easier it was when people said what they meant and you didn’t have to second guess everything. I don’t think it’s a law school thing only – as a side note, I went to law school too – I don’t even think it’s a rich people thing. I think it’s a “middle” and “upper” class thing, if we are painting with broad brushes. The cool thing about it is you can bring the forthrightness into the “upper class” in society as long as you drape it with nice words., make eye contact, and remain respectful. You can be direct and forthright but still be polite.

Why the hell is it that so many people have trouble distinguishing between passive aggression and just plain passivity?

If they are using silent treatments and deliberately ignoring others to get them to conform, that isn’t passivity. It’s annoying-as-fuckivity.

I went through law school too and trust me, it’s not the environment you’re in (i.e. law school), it’s the class system. Before law school I worked in a lower class area and most, if not all, of my friends were lower middle class. I’d get called on my crap in 10 seconds flat on any given day. But with upper class people, it’s not that you “get away” with stuff, it’s that they won’t say anything about it. Trust me, you’re not getting away with anything. They think you’re a weirdo and are most surely talking about you behind your back. They won’t say anything to you though, because that would be “rude.”

Me? I’ll take my lower middle class friends over upper class friends any day.

Wait, I don’t get how ignoring you when you act weird encourages conforming more so than confronting you when your behavior is even slightly out of the ordinary (or if you look at someone too long).

It sounds like in the lower class environments where you’ve lived, there were many expectations and extreme conformity was expected and enforced with violence.

Have you considered that your non sequitor conversation style seems really, really juvenile? They are ignoring it instead of insulting you.

I don’t see how any of the stuff you’re describing is passive-aggressive. Honestly, I’m kind of puzzled by both of your examples.

Huh? If I saw someone at the liquor store that I knew, but they didn’t say hello to me, I’d figure either a) they hadn’t noticed me or didn’t recognize me; b) I was mistaken and they weren’t someone I knew at all; or c) they were embarrassed to be seen in the liquor store – let’s say because they were a Mormon or something – and they were hoping I wouldn’t notice them. If I were reasonably sure it was a) and not b) or c), it would be polite to go up to them and say hello, but I can’t think of ANY situation where it would be appropriate to chew them out for not having said hello to me.

This makes even less sense to me. How is choosing not to let some random, apparently nonsensical comment derail a conversation “passive-aggressive”? If anything, I’d say that deliberately injecting non sequiturs into a conversation that bores you and expecting everyone else to drop their current thread and respond to you is passive-aggressive. (Also, if I knew someone who did this habitually, I would probably assume they had a hearing problem or another disability, and I wouldn’t want to embarrass them by calling attention to the fact that they had just said something weird.)

Of course, I’m just a boring ol’ middle-class conformist type, so don’t mind me.

And on preview, what Hello Again said.

You may also be experiencing a rural/urban split in whether routine greetings and small talk are considered the glue that hold society together vs. an intrusion and a pain in the butt.

I thought you went to Brooklyn Law? Midwood is hardly the epicenter of poshness in New York City.

I interact with all levels of social classes, and I have noticed this. But, I think it is more pronounced among women. Anyone else notice that?

Higher-status people find less need for overt social posturing. It’s because it is either unnecessary (you’re so rich that you don’t need to risk conflict), or futile (social posturing puts your status at risk for little chance of upside gain). Lower-class folk choose direct aggression for the same reasons they choose overt, flashy displays of material wealth… because these things do significantly improve their standing within their social milieu.

What you’re describing seems less like the difference between “honesty” and passive-aggressiveness, and more like the difference between a more confrontational vs. less confrontational style of interaction.

I see it as more overt/direct confrontation vs. covert/indirect confrontation. There’s nothing implicitly covert about passive-aggression. For example, when you offer a handshake and the subject looks you in the eye and does not reciprocate, it is aggression that is overt and direct, but passive.

It’s because lower status people are sensitive to slights because their social status is precarious. You never hear an upper-status person say “You think you’re better than me?” Either (a) they are better than you and they know it, or (b) they’re not better than you and they know it, but they have a lot to lose by initiating open conflict.

This sounds like grooming behavior to me… you’re trying to draw interest to yourself, maybe to placate a threat or curry favor with an ally. Since your audience perceives themselves as higher status, they perceive you as unthreatening and uninteresting. Those who perceive themselves as lower status feel a vague threat that needs to be identified and sorted out.

I also have to agree with Fretful, I didn’t know how to word what I thought of your behavior interjecting random comments into conversations. It is rather juvenile and a pretty obvious cry for attention, in a very “hey! look at me! see how witty I am?! pay attention to meeeee!” kind of way. That kind of behavior is usually looked down upon by higher class people, as it’s seen as a very tacky way of behaving. The classy thing to do in that situation is to ignore the distraction and continue on with your conversation, partly to save the interrupter from an akward silent moment, and partly to let them know that type of behavior is innapropriate in a polite way. If you keep doing it, even after you’re totally ignored, then you’re just being a tool. Good luck making new friends like that.

I wouldn’t consider the open refusal to shake hands passive - that to me falls into the overtly aggressive category, even though it doesn’t involve yelling or physical violence. But that’s a personal opinion.

You’re correct in saying refusing a handshake is entirely overt and aggressive, but you’re confused in thinking that it isn’t also passive. Passive simply means inactive, taking no action, the opposite of active. When a certain behavior is expected (reciprocating a handshake), inactivity is overtly aggressive, though termed ‘passive’. Passive-aggressive doesn’t imply duplicitous, insincere, deceitful, or furtive. It’s pretty much an open “fuck-you” that is communicated via inaction.

I disagree, in that failure to follow a social norm of reciprocating a handshake is an active violation of an unspoken but well-known expectation throughout most of society, but no biggie.

Maybe they’re just not that into you.

Well, the people in the OP weren’t doing that. They were just kind of accepting when weird things happened or going with it. That seems more passive or accepting than passive aggressive to me.

Because confrontation lets you explain your behavior to someone who doesn’t understand it. What doesn’t allow people to understand different behavior is ignoring it or engaging it with violence. But confrontation without violence fosters acceptance, because that is the only choice where the weird behavior gets an explanation.

Violence is definitely the downside to social aggression. There are situations were you really have to be extreme careful about what you do or say so that a fight doesn’t break out. I am not defending this aspect of lower class society at all. The lack of violence is what I love the most about the upper classes.

However, the threat of violence only exists with strangers. When your with friends the social aggressiveness is still there, but the threat of violence is small. There is an implicit understanding that any aggression is nonthreatening and won’t derail the friendship. This is possible because if someone has a problem with your aggression they will usually tell you. That’s how the line is drawn.

I wouldn’t want an insult, but I would like them to do the same thing you are doing now. Which is to at least to tell me you have problem with it, so that then I would have a chance to defend it.

The non sequitor style is a good way to change conversations really quickly without explaining why you’re doing it. I find that it usually leads the conversation in interesting directions. But I understand that people who don’t normally use it might find it disruptive. It takes a group that understands it to make it work.

I go to a school in NY State. I don’t want to give away more than that. But most of the people are from outside NY, so this could be a factor.

Did that sentence come across as a chew out? It wasn’t. It was meant to sound like a friendly confrontation. This way I knew that he was uncomfortable because I didn’t greet him. If the customer would have just came up to me and said “Hi,” then I wouldn’t know what was bothering him.

Shifting the conversation with non sequiturs is just what I’m used to. I did it a couple of times and it was shot down, no biggie. I’ll just have to adapt.

What I don’t understand is why people are being so derisive toward this style. I wouldn’t call it juvenile or unclassy, it’s just one way people can communicate with each other. I think you guys have a different picture in your head of what I’m doing verse what is actually happening. I don’t just blurt something out about floppy cats every few minutes. I wait for a pause and then shift the conversation to my topic of choice without setting it up first or tying it into the previous conversation.

I know it’s unsettling to people, but only because it’s something they aren’t used to. If they weren’t impulsively against it, then it wouldn’t do anything to hurt the conversation. It’s a matter of whether I preemptively try to explain myself every time I do something different, or I just do whatever feels right and they confront me when they have a problem with it. I think the latter choice is a better one because then I don’t have interject shallow social pleasantries every time I do something people aren’t used to.

Developing the talent of pulling off a skilled segue will probably alleviate this. Agreed, not everyone is good at it, but it helps smooth out the mental “jarring” that may occur when one’s conversation suddenly shifts to something entirely different.

Those “social pleasantries” that you dislike are part of building relationships for many people, and rather than call you out on it, others are choosing to let the issue slide when you try to disrupt them. It would be considered to be insulting if someone said, “WTF, man, we’re having a conversation about ________ here” if you suddenly jumped in with, “Sooo, how about (topic)?” as someone doing the latter action is often considered to be an overt expression of how boring the current conversation is.