The Passive Voice

We’re taught not to use the passive voice and yet it wanders past us – like in that phrase right there – without us noticing it.

You have to notice how words are used. Your ears have to be tuned to hearing when the conversation is being shaped because it’s so easy to make little adjustments that change everything.

I was listening to the radio on my way to meet a friend for coffee and the announcer turned to his next guest for a comment. The guest started by saying he was clearly out-numbered. It was true. He was the only member of the panel that was there to take up the side of the KKK and the Nazi’s while cloaked in the less obviously offensive identity of a right wing response.

He was there to provide balance to the discussion – as if there are two sides to a story on the KKK and Nazis.

He talked about the alt-left as if there was such a thing and the host and other panelists began to use his language when they debated him.

He’d won.

He talked about how it was, of course, tragic that a woman had died – and then he paused and softened it to  – a woman had passed on, but there was responsibility on both sides.

There wasn’t. But that’s not what I noticed.

The host began to use the words died and passed on until another guest stopped him.

It could be that I’m particularly sensitive to the way we phrase these things.

A truck ran Kim off the road a year ago today.

I got a call from a social worker at the hospital telling me her arm had some severe damage. They didn’t tell me that the truck that had hit her had also caused a severe brain injury that would lead to her death.

It would be days before Kim passed on … days before she died … but she was killed a year ago today.

In one sense it doesn’t matter whether we use the passive or active voice. Kim would be dead either way.

In another sense, I think it’s important to note that Kim is dead because of the actions of another.

I remember rushing to the hospital and getting there just after her father. We met with the social worker just as they were taking Kim up to surgery.

By the time they were done with surgery, many of our friends and family had joined us at the hospital. We talked to the doctor who described the severe amount of damage caused by the accident. Ironically – I think that’s the right use of the word – had her injuries been less severe she would have died at the scene.

We sometimes choose to use passive words because it’s less accusatory – it’s more polite.

We sometimes choose to be passive because it’s easier – it’s more polite.

But it’s a choice.

We choose to speak passively.

We choose to be passive.

When we do, it shapes the world around us.

A year ago a truck driver changed lanes and ran into Kim’s car.

Her car spun out of control.

There was nothing she could do from that moment forward.

Her car spun across three lanes of traffic and someone who didn’t see her coming and who couldn’t avoid hitting her, hit her car and knocked her back under the truck that had hit her in the first place.

There’s nothing this second vehicle could have done differently.


I’m sure there’s a broader point to make about the world we live in.

About slowing down.

About being responsible.

About noticing that you’re sharing the road with others.

About the dangers that any of us can present to others if we are distracted or irresponsible.

About all that. But …

A truck ran Kim off the road a year ago today.

It would be days before Kim passed on … days before she died … but she was killed a year ago today.

Published in: on August 19, 2017 at 11:18 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I have no words. 💔😢

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