Monday, March 9, 2009

active > passive

I've always had a sort of fondness for the English language. For writing. For words. I just love how certain words just seem to spring into life the moment you write them on the page. Like you can't imagine them ever sitting still and waiting on something to happen. Regardless of their actual meaning, there's something about some words in the English language that just seems so alive. Demonstrative. Enigma. Superfluous. Abominable. Indubitably. They just make me think. No one could ever accuse demonstrative of being shy. Indubitably will never be lost in the crowd. These words have personality and pizzaz. Spirit and energy. They may be misunderstood, but they're never boring.

It's not just this (admittedly a little unique) fascination with words that got me so caught up in the English language. It's so much more. The Chief Creative Director at our advertising agency has always stressed to writers the importance of the active voice. As he ascertains, an active voice always beats a passive voice. (Insert a brief flashback to 3rd grade here: In sentences written in the active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb. The subject acts. On the other hand, in sentences written in the passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed by the verb. The subject is acted upon.) And although he's usually using this mantra to teach some copywriter how to clean up his or her copy, I think he's actually on to something a whole lot bigger. Acting is always better than waiting. Doing is always better than letting something happen. Active always beats passive.

I must admit, that's much easier in theory than it is in real life. Living your life's moments in an active voice sometimes calls for a lot more courage than we think we have. It calls for jumping without knowing whether or not there's a net to catch us. It's following our heart, even when our head can't quite keep up. It's, quite frankly, sometimes really scary. Every time you act, there's a chance that your action can spin out of control. That your action can cause a reaction that you weren't prepared for. That your action may make it impossible to ever go back. That you may fail.

But I have to believe there's something beautiful in that. I have to believe that doing beats being done to. I have to believe that it's better to regret something you did than it is to regret waiting for something to happen. I have to believe that "I lived my life." always beats "My life was lived." That active always beats passive.

Sure, it's enigmatic. But it's never boring.

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