the passive aggressive ‘Thoughts?’ question


“Being covertly spiteful with the intent of inflicting mental pain.”


I get asked for my thoughts all the time.





I would say about 75% of the time I’m asked in good faith. What I mean by that is these 75% genuinely looking to improve or augment what they already think that they know. I thought about this for two reasons. The first was a recent piece JP Castlin offered where he discussed giving second opinions in business. Basically, it came down to fundamentals and the fact somebody who is offering the second opinion should be asking about assumptions rather than giving an opinion on a decision. That’s a truth I believe overlooked by far too many people who are either asked for thoughts or just give thoughts without being asked. The second reason is that other 25%. Yeah. The 25% who asked for thoughts in a passive aggressive way. What do I mean by that? You get forwarded an article, a thought piece, an image, and the only thing that’s attached to it is either ‘what do you think?’ or just the word ‘thoughts?’. It’s a trap. Let me just tell everyone who’s reading this; it’s a trap. And worse it’s a passive aggressive trap. The asker does not really want your thoughts, what they want to do is to tell you their thoughts and what you are missing and where you are wrong. Let me be clear. I love to hear other people’s thoughts, I love to hear if I actually miss something, and I love to be wrong, because every time any one of those three things happens I’m learning something new. But that’s not what is happening here in the passive aggressive situation. You are purposefully being asked in a way because they know, in general, you are gonna offer an answer or offer some thoughts or offer an idea which is going to be counter in some significant way or ‘a way’ that they’re gonna be able to make their point from what they already believe. Its passive aggressive, it’s annoying. However. It is indicative of an unfortunately large swath of people.

Which leads me to the underpinning issue of passive aggressive questioning.

So, yeah, well it would be easy to just call that 25% assholes but the reality is that they are representative of a larger societal issue. To be clear my 25% will have an incredibly high likelihood of having a high level of business experience, a broad level of business experience, and college education. I say that in combination with the word representative because if this 25% has the characteristics of what I would consider a shallow intellectual depth, on a larger scale there will be more of them. The underpinning is far too many people have rejected the discipline of the mind, of critical thinking, and the ability to be able to reexamine their beliefs and opinions. But they are sneaky in their lack of discipline. Sneaky in that they absorb external information, so they appear to be assimilating it into morphing views and attitudes. but they sift through all this information plucking out the proof points for their existing beliefs AND highlighting the things that make opposing views seem “absurd”. **

  • ** note: those things are typically (a) without context or (b) reflective of some random event).

So, while they view trends and developments in the external world -economy, technology, social, culture – and they state they are important to follow, they don’t really allow it to directly or indirectly impact their views. They are really only observers of knowledge and not participating thereby not experiencing the connections and correlations which would create the traction for wisdom.  While they may seem to have an open mindset they actually have a more traditional mindset where they “feel” beliefs and focus primarily on the things that support their views rather than spending the time that they are watching the external world using it to inform their views. This was actually outlined by Philip Tetlock:

“Regardless of what side of the social intellect scale you reside on what you think isn’t really based on the level of Education or even actual experience instead it comes down to the way someone thinks. The ones who typically do amazingly badly with regard to how they think about things were those who believed that there was a big idea which explained everything world was simple and could be understood simply and that they could just stamp their big idea unto every situation. The ones who do well thinking through things were those who had no such big idea, who regarded the world as complex took their information from many different sources and were willing to be self critical and learn from mistakes. The key inevitably comes down to checking whether you were right or wrong. And even that is tricky because the majority of people seek out proof for what they predicted or thought rather than broad based information to check against it.”

I believe it was Jonathan Haidt who said when we are presented with evidence for or against a hypothesis, we ask ourselves one of two questions.

  • When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves “can I believe it?” Then we search for supporting evidence and if we find even a single piece of pseudo evidence we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe.
  • When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves “must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it.

I believe this is called motivated credulity and motivated skepticism.

The incredibly sad thing is by rejecting the discipline of the mind people are corrupting the one tool which elevated us everyday schmucks to some intellectual rigor of thought. This rejection inevitably creates an almost purposeful disregard for common knowledge replacing it with the oft mis-placed and oft-misused common sense. If we are truly honest, a significant swath of society lacks the penetrating critical intellect needed to pierce some of the complex issues we face hiding behind “common sense.” A complex world increases a craving for a simplicity, for something to follow, and it chases anyone who feeds into the desire for simplicity with hollow simplistic rhetoric. The urge to chase is encouraged if there is an overall disenchantment with the culture of the country – decline of national spirit, disappointment in idealism defeated by some institutional realism and materialism in business. All only encourages people to double down on the accumulated burden of ideas and attitudes over a lifetime, and the growing up experience, which consequently very few people will ever get around even to questioning. We all grow up in the context of certain ideas, which create some attitudes and beliefs, and it is difficult for us to shake free of them. I admit all of that, I acknowledge all of that, but there are a shitload of people who do not. and, relevant to this piece, it seems like the more educated, and more experienced, the 25% passive aggressive asshats are, the less likely they are to see themselves in anything I have written. And that, my friends, is indicative of an unfortunately large swath of people in the world today. Ponder.

Written by Bruce