Friday, September 28, 2012

active and passive (or passive and active)

When writing, I have always been instructed that active voice is better than passive voice. In sixth grade, I remember my teacher trying to explain the difference between passive voice and active voice by tossing a football around the room. "I tossed the football" (active). "The football was tossed" (passive). "The football has been caught" (passive). "Jimmy caught the football" (active).

Active voice packs a larger punch with less words. Active voice provides readers with more details. Active voice means less ambiguity. Authors must say what they mean and meant it. A lot of government documents (legislation, etc.) is written passively. (Did you see what I did there? I wrote in passive voice ambiguously about those government officials who write in passive voice ambiguously). Passive voice allows for the writer (or speaker) to leave out specifics.

When we choose to verbalize our identity, I believe we find it easier to use passive voice. "I am [blank]" rather than "I do [blank] " or "I [blank- verb-active]." I am a park ranger (my personal example this evening). We don't have to do as much explaining. We don't have to go into any detail. We get to place our own labels on ourselves. I will admit that "I am a park ranger" is easier to say and comprehend than "I engage the visiting public to a local park and interpret historical themes of places the federal government have deemed significant enough to preserve and be managed by an assigned agency all while wearing a shiny badge and funny hat." See? Practically the same, yet entirely different.

So as I branch out, as I move away from working for the park service, I know I will miss being able to respond to the question "what do you do" with the answer "I am a park ranger." In reality, my answer has never answered the "doing" part, just the "being" part. "What do you do?" "I engage people with themes based in history but that apply to all of the human experience." That part won't change, even after I stop being a park ranger.

And for the record, I write this in anticipation of my next several days and weeks. I have slowly begun to tell people of my decision, and thanks to the media that is of social sorts, more will soon find out. I have to prepare myself for the onslaught of shock that will happen when my friends and acquaintances announce "but you are a park ranger!" and then suggest that I can't "just leave!" (I have already had that idea presented to me). I worked in a park ranger position and love much of what I did. But I am more. I might do things differently, I will be the same.

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