An Aggressive Assertion

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.

Neptune and Triton - 10

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.


3 thoughts on “An Aggressive Assertion

  1. “It does not exist, perhaps, because it is probably a guideline that cannot be productised.”

    “Most “assertive” people are usually trying to please most people.”

    Disagree with these two statements. Assertiveness very much exists and has nothing to do with pleasing other people.

    Think of assertiveness as the ‘ability to say NO’. That is an entry point towards a psychology-oriented understanding of this very important and significant term.

    “it seems that beyond dictionary definitions and human interpretations, assertion has little meaning.”
    What has meaning beyond dictionary definitions and human interpretations? What do you mean by meaning?


    • I have added a small update to the post for one of the sentences. It did not come out right – because I did not provide the necessary context. Mea culpa.

      The post really expresses a very relative idea of assertiveness and aggression. One mans assertion can be another man’s aggression. In absolute terms assertiveness is all that you have explained in your post, and I don’t disagree with any of those meanings or examples. Hypothetically speaking, if two equally assertive people have opposing views on which they assert themselves, there will necessarily be a way of either compromise or manipulation from one of them, to make progress. So, either you let go of your stand in some way (compromise) or become aggressive (manipulate) to make progress. Either ways, you let go off the assertion.

      Without going into the philosophy of right and wrong, Gandhi’s disobedience movement may be perceived as psychological aggression by the British.

      I do not claim that assertiveness does not exist, only that I just see it as a vague point in a shade card of the person’s perception who faces this sort of behaviour. This post isn’t about the semantics; but that’s my fault – I did not make that clear.

      But this is the beauty of blogging and readership too; that conversations occur!


  2. Pingback: Assertive vs. Aggressive: Why It Matters | An Unquiet Mind

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