The earliest definition that I ever knew of assertiveness was a dictionary extract in a book:
— to assert is to state positively with great confidence but with no objective proof.
This meaning was taken from the Websters dictionary, I have been searching online to find this meaning on Websters Online, but haven’t. The meaning has been edited. They have probably revised it (the book in which I read this, is a ’75 edition)
This meaning has bothered me for a while; especially as I came to discover, that in this world there is little difference between being assertive and being aggressive. In most of the searches in dictionaries and thesauri, I found that aggressive is a synonym for assertive. Yet, for some reason assertiveness has a positive quality, while aggression is usually the darker disliked cousin.
So is there a difference between the two? Even if subtle? And are they twins, really separated only by the positive and negative connotations that have come to be associated with them over time? Or are they inherently different by lineage? Assert’s origins lie in Latin, meaning a claim, whereas aggression’s lineage (also in Latin) is a derivative of attack. Assertion has always got the good press and has come to mean something that most people understand as something to emulate, imbibe and reflect. Aggression and hostility, therefore became intimate.
I have however, yet to experience assertiveness as defined in a textbook. It does not exist, perhaps, because it is probably a guideline that cannot be productised. The equation that defines assertion also changes with context; Gender Mathematics, for example. Most “assertive” people are usually trying to please most people. (See note below). One interpretation of assertion is: firm, but polite (implying that aggression is necessarily impolite or hostile; I’d agree). When you start looking at the degree in which a person asserts, the gradient usually darkens towards aggression, unless of course the person is willing to let go of the firmness. This isn’t a case against assertion or a case for aggression. It’s just that it seems that beyond dictionary definitions and human interpretations, assertion has little meaning.
Assertion, then, is possibly a defence against aggression. And when assertion does not work, aggression, possibly its only escape
Note: I have stricken out that line, since it was out of context. That’s my mistake in presentation. It was in reference to aggression, where the aggressor does not care about the person facing the aggression.