Going aggressive vs. being assertive

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport.

One of the big lessons to come from this year’s political battles has hardly been noticed in the press, but it’s such an important aspect of conflict resolution that I think it deserves a public airing, right here, right now. We’ve heard enough chest-thumping, seen enough fist-pumping, and have no need for another talking head blowing off steam with vigor – even if they never find themselves even briefly in the neighborhood of answering the question they were asked.

It’s time that we reviewed the difference between being aggressive and being assertive. One is meant to intimidate an opponent, while the other is used to advocate a position. Put another way, the former is dangerously close to belligerence, although the latter might be reasonably described as emphatically explaining a particular perspective.

In the political arena, aggression is most often a sign of weakness, disguised as strength. Anyone can yell, and pound the podium, and wag an accusing finger at their opposition. It takes far more restraint, and a far better prepared individual to argue a point from a position of insight and dedication.

People may cheer for a candidate who beats on the podium and screams incoherently. But they listen to a candidate who talks to them as if they are adults who have the power of reason in their tool belt.

Aggression comes off as mean spirited in many cases, and for good reason. It originates in frustration, or anger. Aggression implies that physical might is a valid option if logic fails, which is almost never a worthwhile means of getting your point across – unless the other guy is holding a big stick and demanding your wallet in a menacing manner. Aggression is a bad thing when trying to make a point, sway your audience, or get an opposing party to embrace your position as their own.

I think you can see where this is going. Most of America seems to have taken a deep, communal breath, counted to 10, and come to the conclusion that arguing for the sake of arguing isn’t really getting us anywhere. The aviation community might take note of that realization. In fact, we can learn a thing or two from this new wave of critical thinking that’s sweeping the nation. The one that suggests we need to take an entirely different look at our political representation, and our method of making an argument on subjects of importance to the public.

We need to learn to be assertive as a nation, and to listen better, as well. And when I say, as a nation, I mean, as an aviation friendly support group that hopes to help non-aviation people understand and embrace our cause.

Sure, that would be a neat trick. We’ve been trying for years, haven’t we? Well, let’s consider taking a new swing at an old problem, with an eye toward a successful end result rather than our frustration at being unable to make progress as rapidly, or universally as we had hoped we might.

The truth is, we can accomplish our goal by simply changing our tactics, polishing our message, and remembering that at one time each of us was new to aviation, too. We were just as raw, and just as uninformed as anyone carrying an anti-aviation message today. Perhaps we had a slightly more supportive circle of friends or family that helped us get over our qualms about airport life, but there was a time when each and every one of us walked onto the ramp area with a perfectly natural and completely understandable sense of trepidation.

Remember, aircraft are not a natural part of life. Some of our friends and neighbors have a real fear, based on a debilitating misunderstanding of the nature of aircraft, flight, and the environment we operate in. These are man-made machines, after all. And the system they operate in has been designed and run by humans. If you’ve never been exposed to aviation in a way that allows for a perfectly reasonable sense of concern for one’s own safety, accepts that frayed nerves and ignorance go hand in hand, and provides a means of filling the gaps in an individual’s understanding over a fairly long time frame, it goes without saying that you will more than likely not be a fan of aviation.

This brings to mind a beautiful summer day more than 20 years ago at MacArthur in Islip, New York. While waiting for my own departure time to roll around I saw two couples preparing to take an afternoon’s pleasure flight in a four-seat rental. One couple was walking to the airplane contentedly, holding hands. The other couple was less in tune regarding their afternoon jaunt. The woman was screaming bloody murder while squatting down on the pavement in a frantic effort to backpedal her way off the ramp. Her boyfriend was totally focused on dragging her to the airplane, and was making sure his physical superiority won the day.

I never saw either couple again, but I think it’s a safe bet that at least one person from that foursome walked away from the airport that day with a less than enthusiastic feeling about making a return trip.

Admittedly, we don’t need to be 100% warm and fuzzy about our advocacy for aviation. But we could stand to be a bit less aggressive, and embrace the assertive method more often, and with greater effect. If we educate our friends and neighbors slowly, over time and in an appropriate way, and do the same for municipal managers, news reporters, and students who show even a glimmer of interest, we will ultimately expand our numbers and make genuine progress.

Being assertive is often a slower method of affecting real change than might be possible if making your argument aggressively. But the results are more beneficial to us in the long run when we take the assertive route. And it is in the long term that all our futures will eventually come to fruition. So let’s at least consider giving the assertive approach a try. You need a good New Year’s Resolution for 2011 anyway, right?

You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.


  1. Gary Sturdy says

    I enjoyed your article. How to be assertive? Be prepared. Know all the facts pro & con for a particular position. Let the facts shape your position. Share all the facts pro & con.

    Politicians take a stand, then filter the facts to justify their stand.

    Know the facts, then take a stand based on the facts. It is much easier to be assertive when you know and acknowledge all the facts.

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