Passivity In Languageby Peter Hyatt
Passivity in language can be used by someone who wishes to deceive, but resists the internal stress of a direct lie.
Herein are some examples that will help you flag passive portions of statements and raise the question, "Is the person unwilling or unable to bring himself to say he did it?"
The most common example is overly simplified but common: "...the gun went off..." especially in domestic disputes where a gun has been fired.
A gun can go off while being cleaned, and inadvertently, one may be shot.
911: "What is your emergency?"
Subject: "I shot my wife while cleaning my gun. She is bleeding, get here now! Oh my God! You must help her. What do I do? She is bleeding!"
In this call, what is the very first thing the caller wants the 911 operator to know? The subject wants to know that his wife is shot.
911: "What is your emergency?"
Subject: "I was just cleaning my gun. I am a hunter and a collector. The weapon went off. It was an accident. Someone help me! She is bleeding."
In the second call, what is the caller's priority?
In the first call, the caller is most interested in getting help for his wife. In the second call, he is most concerned that this be seen as an accident, not only employing passive language, "the pistol went off" but the "gun" that was being cleaned, has now become a "weapon", (see Change of Language). Notice also that the first caller uses the possessive pronoun "my" for his wife (good relationship) while the second caller deprives her of the title of "wife."
Even in more mundane circumstances we can find passivity in language used to conceal identity or to keep from taking responsibility.
In a nursing facility, a patient nearly choked to death.
An internal investigation was conducted as the doctor's orders have been made clear to all staff: Every meal must be pureed for the patient.
On the day of the choking, the nurse was asked if she pureed the meal, as she was the only one attending to the patient at the time of the choking.
What did she say?
"The meal was pureed."
The staff serving the meal took a photo of it, on her phone camera, fearful of being blamed. She had challenged the nurse saying, "This doesn't looked pureed" and later reported, "The nurse said that the sound of the blender sets the patient off" and she had gotten "special permission" from Dr. ********* to use a potato masher.
Dr. ******* said, "I did not give permission to anyone. Without puree, she will choke to death."
The nurse was unable to bring herself to say "I pureed the meal" as a direct lie. Instead, just like the weapon that appeared to fire itself, a meal will not put itself into a blender.
The photo confirmed that the meal had been mashed, but not pureed.
An internal investigation resulted in the termination of the liar.
Yet, for Statement Analysis: She did not lie outright. An outright lie is very rare. She did not say "I pureed her meal" because she did not. By saying "the meal was pureed" she employed passive language, which removes the pronoun "I" from the sentence, distancing herself from the actual responsibility of actually fulfilling the duty.
Meals do not puree themselves.
Guns do not kill people.
Cars do not hit other cars.
"A report was made" is to avoid the responsibility of saying, "I made the report."
Passivity is used to sometimes conceal identity. It is appropriately used when identity is not known, therefore, expected.
Yet as parents of teenagers know, passivity is also used when one wishes to avoid a direct lie with the pronoun "I" within it.