Here we are once again – Thanksgiving, that special time of the year when the whole country becomes almost as passive aggressive as we Mennonites are all the time.
It’s really heartwarming.
The people I have spoken to seem to think that passive aggressive behaviour often emerges at family Thanksgiving events simply because of the pressure to be together and civil for the length of time of a meal.
I think it’s because giving thanks is itself an activity particularly well suited to the genre.
Gratitude’s the most passive of all passive aggressive tools – so passive that audience will often miss the aggression altogether. Which also makes it perfectly suited to Thanksgiving family dinners. Where no one really wants to rock the boat too much and ruin the holiday for everyone. But we still can’t help ourselves.
Though I’m sure most of my readers don’t need my help, I’ve prepared here a little primer for passive aggressive expressions of gratitude to keep families civil(ish) with each other this Thanksgiving. My examples are from issues relevant in the Mennonite world but I’m pretty sure they can be adapted to other situations.
Because passive aggressivity knows no bounds and can cross all borders.
If your Thanksgiving table includes people on both sides of the Church divide over LGBTQ inclusion
“I am thankful for the primacy of scripture and the unerring Truth of everything in the Bible.”
“I am thankful for the words of Christ that tell us to love our neighbours as ourselves and for Biblical historians who have helped us learn the context of Old Testament rules.”
If your Thanksgiving table includes richer and poorer people
“I am thankful for all my wealth that lets me support various Mennonite charities and make the world a better place.”
“I am thankful that I have solidarity with the poor and disadvantaged…like Jesus.”
If your Thanksgiving table includes people with differing views about worship music
“I am thankful for all the youthful energy we have when we sing newer hymns and bring out the drums.”
“I am thankful that we didn’t let all those politically correct crazies make 606 gender inclusive.”
See, doesn’t all that sound like fun pre-turkey family banter?
But passive aggressive gratitude doesn’t have to end there.
The next level of passive aggressive expressions of gratitude doesn’t even involve an implicit comparison to others in the room. There will be a lot of people this Thanksgiving grateful that we’re not in the US with all its problems with race relations, unsafe drinking water and buffoonish politicians.
Giving thanks for things like this is golden. Thanksgiving’s a feel-good celebration. No one wants to be reminded this weekend that we have problems like that in Canada too. Like any good form of passive aggressivity, this king of gratitude does double duty, reinforcing in the speaker a sense of smug superiority, while also providing all those lovely health benefits that come with being grateful. It’s a win-win.
Speaking of the US, in Canada we also get to be grateful for both getting our Thanksgiving turkey first and for having no uncomfortable reminders in our Thanksgiving founding story of our Settler-Indigenous relations. Instead of a false narrative of peaceful relations, we trace our holiday back to harvest festivals that go back to forever or, if we want something more specific, Frobisher’s feast or Samuel Champlain’s Order of Good Cheer. Let’s all be grateful for our collective ability to not just rewrite our history of Indigenous-Settler relations (like those poor sods south of us) but to avoid thinking about them entirely.
We don’t have to be thinking about Americans when we passive aggressively practice gratitude this weekend. Really, zeroing in on any form of inequality or difference can have the same effects of bolstering a sense of personal superiority and reinforcing any ideas that the proper response to people with less privilege (or wrong views) is pity. It’s just important that we take a moment between turkey and pie to think sadly about the people who aren’t lucky enough to be us.
We could even offer them up a little prayer.
A word of warning, however.
To successfully practice passive aggressive Thanksgiving, it is important to stay away from actual heart-felt gratitude about specific acts or gifts that happen at an interpersonal level, and from expressions of gratitude that involve no direct or implied social comparison. I, for instance, am grateful that my family persists in inviting me to Thanksgiving dinner and puts up with me year after year. That’s not passive aggressive at all.
I am also eternally grateful for the human capacity to laugh, to love, and to know when to leave when the party’s over. And that’s not passive aggressive either.
(ok, yes, that last bit’s a little passive aggressive).
Here’s a cocktail recipe
You don’t have to thank me for it.
Passive Aggression in a Glass
This is a nice little autumnal cocktail with hints of pumpkin spice and a big wallop of whiskey. It’s a drink that hits from behind and leaves a warm feeling of self satisfaction not unlike that felt after a volley of the most passive of passive aggressive behaviours.
- 1.5 oz bourbon whiskey
- .75 oz maple pumpkin spice syrup*
- 1 egg white
- cardamon bitters
This cocktail takes a bit more work than most I suggest. I am grateful that my readership has no problems with going out and hunting down things like cardamon bitters or making their own maple pumpkin spice syrup just to make a cocktail. You guys rock.
Once you have all your ingredients assembled, put the egg white in the cocktail shaker on its own and shake madly for a minute or two until it is truly foamy. Add the rest of the ingredients and ice, and shake a few times until chilled and combined. Strain into a glass, spooning out foam as needed.
Enjoy, pondering while you drink it just how much more fortunate you are than all those pitiable folk out there who don’t even read this blog.
*maple pumpkin spice syrup: take about a tblsp of pumpkin puree – more if the pie maker in your house will let you (I am really very grateful for the little bit of pumpkin I was permitted) – and mix it with 1 1/2 tblsp maple syrup, 1 1/2 tblsp water and a dash each of ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. Heat until boiling and then cool before mixing into your cocktail.