May 22, 2011

Aggression in its Most Elegant Form

On Wall Street, a measure of a person's suitability to the work is his or her level of aggressiveness.  I've participated in countless meetings where people were critically evaluated on the basis of this metric.  I'm sure other industries and settings are similar in this regard.  In fact, it seems to me that aggressiveness is deemed an indication of a charmed life.  We applaud people who refuse to lose and go to great lengths to get what they want.  Winning, after all, isn't everything.  It's the only thing. 

The problem with this is that when the results of voracious acquisitiveness are admired to the exclusion of the processes by which goals are accomplished, people go to harmful lengths to achieve success.  Doping in sports, white lies on loan applications, quid pro quos that line political pockets but hurt community interests are just a few examples of what invariably occurs. 

Recently the auto company, Nissan, added to our preoccupation with success at all costs with ads that include the words: Aggession in its most elegant form.  What group of geniuses thought that was a good tag line?  I suppose they figured we needed more road rage, not to mention commuters swerving in and out of lanes to save 30 seconds.  They must have concluded our byways needed a few more arrogant drivers who think a yellow light means "speed up" and that another drink (or business conversation on a cellphone) won't diminish their superior driving skills. 

After seeing one too many of these ads, I've decided to never consider buying a Nissan--not if the company continues to romanticize aggression as elegance.  My favorite writer, John Steinbeck, once summarized my point in the following way:
The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concommitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, eogtism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.
Let's all agree that aggressiveness that aims for success to the exclusion of fairness, honesty and generosity, is the opposite of whatever elegance claims to be.


Wesley Mann said...
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Anonymous said...


Often people use "aggression" when I think "assertiveness" would be more appropriate.

In my mind, "aggression" invites discounting or ignoring the interests and perspective of others. On the other hand, one can be "assertive" in pursuit of one's own interests while simultaneously showing and giving care to others.