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what does the term 'passive-aggressive' mean to you?

 
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I see it used a lot to label certain behavior and to me the meaning has always seemed unclear so I'm reading more about it.

Here is one online definition...

Passive-aggressive behaviors are those that involve acting indirectly aggressive rather than directly aggressive. Passive-aggressive people regularly exhibit resistance to requests or demands from family and other individuals often by procrastinating, expressing sullenness, or acting stubborn.



and another...

   bitterness and hostility toward other peoples' requests.
   intentionally delaying or making mistakes when dealing with other peoples' requests.
   having a cynical, pessimistic, or aggressive demeanor.
   frequently complaining about feeling underappreciated or deceived.



My feeling is that it is an overused term and unfair to label a one time behavior episode 'passive-aggressive'.  

 
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my daughter called me passive aggressive this weekend when she called me up and basically threw a decision she didn't want to make into my lap, and I refused to make it for her.
I agree that "passive aggressive" tends to be another way of saying for "I'm unhappy with my situation and looking for someone to blame". I told her my only aggressive is quite active, and she'd know when it was activated.
(she had a hard decision, and I wasn't going to make it for her. At the end of the day, we both think she did the right thing, so yay.)

I say this with sort of amusement, since my biological family is passive aggressive and codependent to an extreme-- "outsiders" are completely befuddled without an interpreter. When my husband met my family, it became clear this was not normal. It is almost like a different language and culture.

I would define it as follows:
For whatever reason, asking for something or expressing an opinion without a filter or alterior motives (particularly using guilt as a tool) is not done. Anything said plainly or directly is unthinkably rude, but indirect things never have a positive spin, only a negative one: implications or things done wrong, incompletely, etc. Guilt, poor-me, condemnation, etc are constantly present. Instead of constructive criticism, the condiment is always erosion, derision, and seeds of discord.  
It's like taking your real, true emotions and trying to fit them into something, like a very tight high-heel shoe, that doesn't really fit and hides what they really look like. After a while, you maybe even forget what they really are, and you hurt so bad that maybe you forget how to express anything without expressing pain and unhappiness. I can see in my family it started with a lack of power and affection, leading to an inability to confidently express true emotions and needs.

I left this environment, set firm boundaries in my interactions with them (thanks to lots of therapy!!!) and try to be a plain talker. When I'm mad, people know it, but when I'm grateful, or loving, or hungry or tired, people know that too. I try to just use one emotion at a time, and not hide one within another. I understand that this is a luxury, and I try to acknowledge that not everyone has this luxury.
 
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Will shoot from the hip here a bit coming from the state (Minnesota) that practically created the passive-aggressive phenomenon (.... ;-) .....)

I agree that passive-aggressive *can* be mislabeled by the person on the receiving end of the behavior if they are interpreting the behavior incorrectly.  Coming from the Euro-immigrant subculture that uses words...'sparingly'....a non-verbal or non-direct answer/reaction to a request can mean many things.  It could mean "I'm thinking about your request and am honestly trying to figure out the best answer or solution....", or it could convey many other notions, one of which could also include:

"I'm beyond insulted and offended by your request in which case I will say nothing and give you no satisfaction whatsoever.....certainly not verbalized.  *I* will decided how your request will be answered in such a way that you will probably not like the answer...."  

....something to that effect.  So in my mind, passive-aggressive behavior is real, but it must be determined that the one exhibiting the behavior is engaging in the behavior with the *intent* of foiling the request/order.  Always difficult to determine if an admission is not forthcoming in one or another form of communication.

 
master pollinator
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Oh passive-aggression is very real, I have dealt with it in my family all my life.

It is really simple to understand: it is someone that hates conflict, so they silently assert themselves where others cannot directly react.

This can be in the form of avoidance, or in writing, and my mother...the queen of passive-aggressive behavior, does both.

1. In avoidance, it happens like this. My father will say something that upsets her, so instead of directly challenging him on what he said, she refuses to speak to him. This might last a day or weeks, but she refuses to talk to him, so he knows he did something wrong, then the guessing game begins on what that one thing was. For my mother, she feels like she is in control, has the upper hand, has the idea, "well I am showing him." I have tried to tell her that she is not, because I have had her, and others were her condition, ask me, "so how did you like me snubbing you?" Most of the time, I did not even know to be honest with you.

That is just an example, because we all have had to deal with my mom. With her 6 siblings, I often forget who ishe is not talking too, or whom she is now, because it depends on the day, year or season on who she is mad at, and whom she is not. And for us kids, we just shrug our shoulders when it is our turn and say, "well its our turn now. I wonder how long this will last."

2. The other way is with leaving notes. Let's say that a passive-aggressive person sees someone parked in a handicap spot. You or I would wait until they came back out of the store, and then call them out on their stupidity. Not an passive-aggressive person, remember, they hate conflict, but want to state their opinion, so they leave a nasty note instead. If you want to have fun, go on YouTube and search for passive-aggressive notes, you will laugh until your stomach hurts on what some of these people say.

The thing of this is...it is a sad affliction to have. It is like taking poison and then waiting for the person they are mad at to die. The reality is, most of the time the other person is so busy in their life that they do not even know that person was upset with them. So they get all angry and mad inside, and it is all of their own making.

If you are alive, you are going to have conflict, and it is best to learn how to manage conflict appropriately.

It is not right for me to go up to the guy that parked in the handicap spot and say, "What is your problem idiot". That might not be passive-aggressive behavior...it is just aggressive. That is not the right way to handle it. A better way might be to say, "Watch where you park next time okay?" And just shrug your shoulders and move on. I have addressed the problem, but not aggressively.
 
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Is it passive aggressive of me, to claim how much "I love this mild southern California weather, with Santa Anna winds from the desert causing it to get over 100F 1 week from November like it does every year, and if my AC stops running it'll likely kill my dog before I get home from work... but hey, it's a DRY heat... oh, they closed the only major highway heading east out of the county due to a wildfire yesterday, thanks to the DRY heat? Well, at least we haven't had another hepatitis A outbreak like the one about 2 years ago, which killed 20 people of the nearly 600 cases because nobody was willing to help the homeless population clean their hands after [literally] pooping on the sidewalks downtown, and only stepped in once some affluent people got sick and the threat of lawsuits was floated around..."
 
Tereza Okava
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Mark Brunnr wrote:Is it passive aggressive of me, to claim how much "I love this mild southern California weather....."



Only if it can somehow be construed as my fault. :-D
Reposting the gif because it is not possible to see that too many times in one day. Thank you.
 
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Is it passive aggressive to call someone passive aggressive?  😉
 
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Artie Scott wrote:Is it passive aggressive to call someone passive aggressive?  😉



Now really, is it fair to come here and expect us to figure that out for you? I think you know perfectly well what the problem with that is.

/Am I doing this right?
 
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I've always seen it as manipulation, with a side of feigned innocence. I don't see reluctant acquiescence as passive aggressiveness, unless it is served up as some great form of martyrdom.

For example, in our home, largely due to past experience, we both agreed that while most things should be agreed upon by both of us, if a decision is urgent, and we can't agree, after voicing my thoughts(if there's time for it), I will abide by his decision. This means that sometimes, I'm not exactly thrilled with the way things go, in a specific situation. However, I went into this knowingly and intentionally, because I trust his judgement. BUT, if I'm not happy about it, I'm not going to try to make him feel bad about that. Passive aggressive behavior, the way I see it, is *intentionally* geared toward keeping a self-righteous stance, while making the other person feel like crap.
 
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Carla Burke wrote:...unless it is served up as some great form of martyrdom.



That was so well-put.
 
Artie Scott
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I think you have it exactly right, Dillon!  And thanks for cleaning out my sinuses with the hot tea I was drinking when I read your post - fortunately, it was mint, so it was mildly refreshing as I snorted it out my nose.
 
John Weiland
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Carla Burke wrote: .....Passive aggressive behavior, the way I see it, is *intentionally* geared toward keeping a self-righteous stance, while making the other person feel like crap.




You say that as if there is something wrong with that behavior......



:-)



It's like you were living in the broom closet of my childhood home all those years and distilled the experience down to a one-liner!...... ;-)   Well-summarized...
 
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Carla Burke wrote:Passive-aggressive behavior, the way I see it, is *intentionally* geared toward keeping a self-righteous stance



Unfortunately if one is accused of passive-aggressive behavior, and one says it is unintentional, that will also be called passive-aggressive.
 
Trace Oswald
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In response to Judith's first post, I think yes, a one time behavior can certainly be passive aggressive, but to touch on Tyler's point, it's easier to tell passive aggressive behavior by the trends.  If a person exhibits those same type of behaviors often, it's much easier to be sure it's a person being passive aggressive.  If you have never seen a person act in that way before, it's much more likely they are just having a bad day or there was a miscommunication.  
 
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I do not think "being passive-aggressive" is really a one time affair. That is, I think a lot of us have been passive-aggressive a few times in our lives, and at times it is okay to be passive-aggressive. But when it becomes a behavioral habit, that is when the negative connotation gets attached to someone.

It is a lot like being a hoarder. I think in one way or another many of us have hoarded things, and that is okay, but at some point, hoarding becomes a destructive behavioral habit for some people.

Being passive aggressive is a tool in which to interact with fellow man, BUT when it becomes the go-to means of communication, then that becomes an issue.
 
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what does the term 'passive-aggressive' mean to you?


It means nothing to me. It does remind me of reading the novel "1984" written by George Orwell (in 1948 or so if my information is correct) for the first time, some 35 years ago, as a teenager. Newspeak... Where words are used to describe something they do not mean. When you use language not to clarify but to obscure meaning. The past two decades I saw in increasing amazement and horror how our language got polluted by ever increasing amounts of new words and terms that make things increasingly unclear. It makes me sad, but still other than that, these newspeak terms mean nothing to me.
 
Tereza Okava
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Unfortunately if one is accused of passive-aggressive behavior, and one says it is unintentional, that will also be called passive-aggressive.


Maybe, but generally if someone gives me a passive aggressive answer and I ask something like "Sorry, I didn't understand, what exactly can I help you with?" a legitimate person will say something like "hm, that may have sounded kind of jerky, sorry, I meant XX." You can tell.
My passive aggressive folks, on the other hand, would get all squirrelly and probably say "I don`t need anything" or some other head-scratching response.
 
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My family never confronts a problem head on. Instead gossip and snide remarks are the currency used behind each others backs. While, to a persons face, it's as if nothing is amiss. I always considered that passive-aggressive.

My family finds me very very difficult. I like to confront issues head on and then move on.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Tereza Okava wrote:

Tyler Ludens wrote:
Unfortunately if one is accused of passive-aggressive behavior, and one says it is unintentional, that will also be called passive-aggressive.


Maybe, but generally if someone gives me a passive aggressive answer and I ask something like "Sorry, I didn't understand, what exactly can I help you with?"



That's not saying to them "you are being passive-aggressive."

 
Judith Browning
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This has been a real eye opener for me...I took the two words at what I thought they meant literally and apparently that's why I never understood why people would call someone 'passive-aggressive'.  I thought it meant that they were first passive and then had enough, lost it and were then aggressive and I never bothered to look further.  It bothered me that it seemed to be used when, at least in my mind. someone had not been 'aggressive' at all.

I'm listening with much interest now



 
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I think most of us have met this passive aggressive person.

Whenever I call my phone company, a very pleasant ladies voice comes on.

 "Thank you for calling. Your call is important to us. We are experiencing higher than normal call volume, please stay on the line and the next available operator will help you." Then we either stay on the line, or if we don't have half an hour to waste, we hang up.

My phone company used to allow me to push a button to receive a call back at a later date, but they stopped that because people were using it and then they had to deal with those people.

If the recording was honest, she would say  --- "Hello, we wish you hadn't called. We are experiencing the normal amount of calls for a Wednesday afternoon, but we've chosen to not staff enough people, since studies have shown that most of you will give up after 10 minutes and we won't have to deal with you. We don't care if you have a nice day or not."
 
Judith Browning
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Wondering why it's not called 'passive aggression'  rather than 'passive-aggressive'?
 
Carla Burke
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Judith Browning wrote:Wondering why it's not called 'passive aggression'  rather than 'passive-aggressive'?



I think it's really just because it's usually used to describe a behavior or comment, as with an accusation, like 'why are you being so passive-aggressive?' - So, it's used that way as an adjective, rather than a noun. Passive-aggression would be just as accurate, imho - I think it's all in how it's used, in a given sentence.
 
Travis Johnson
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elle sagenev wrote:My family never confronts a problem head on. Instead gossip and snide remarks are the currency used behind each others backs. While, to a persons face, it's as if nothing is amiss. I always considered that passive-aggressive.

My family finds me very very difficult. I like to confront issues head on and then move on.



Elle...I am very sorry you have this issue as it sounds exactly like mine.

My brother and sister really hate that my Mom acts this way, so what do they do...the exact same thing! They refuse to speak to my mother because she is "so passive-aggressive", and yet Katie and I are like, "but you two are acting just like her!" We just shrug our shoulders at how dysfunctional my family is.

Like you, I am pretty direct, and just address the pony in the room before it becomes the elephant in the room.
 
Tereza Okava
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Tereza Okava wrote:

Tyler Ludens wrote:
Unfortunately if one is accused of passive-aggressive behavior, and one says it is unintentional, that will also be called passive-aggressive.


Maybe, but generally if someone gives me a passive aggressive answer and I ask something like "Sorry, I didn't understand, what exactly can I help you with?"



That's not saying to them "you are being passive-aggressive."


Nope. If I bother to ask, it's because I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.  If a person is visibly being passive aggressive, I don't see the point in calling them out on it. I'd rather just avoid interaction.

Edited to add: I think I hear what you're saying, Tyler. If someone just responds "you're being passive aggressive" instead of hearing what you're saying, that's gaslighting and no less jerky than being passive aggressive.  (or is passive-aggression squared? in either case, it's a formula for an ulcer). Do I understand correctly?
 
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Judith Browning wrote:This has been a real eye opener for me...I took the two words at what I thought they meant literally and apparently that's why I never understood why people would call someone 'passive-aggressive'.  I thought it meant that they were first passive and then had enough, lost it and were then aggressive and I never bothered to look further.  It bothered me that it seemed to be used when, at least in my mind. someone had not been 'aggressive' at all.

I'm listening with much interest now



This makes a lot of sense now, because before I was thinking, "where is the confusion on this?" Now I see...

I guess I just dislike passive-aggressive people because to me it a pretty despicable.

What they are saying is, "I do not want to be nice...so I am going to be mean from afar where I can say my peace, but they cannot defend themselves in return", and to me...well...that is just being chickenshit...but it is worse because it a chickenshit being mean.
 
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I don't agree that it's nonsense. Some people actually communicate this way.

I treat it like grunting, or baby talk. I smile and condescend, in an, "Oh, bless your poor benighted heart," kind of way, and keep on with my saccharine belittlement until they get the hint.

But it is also possible to be acting in a manner completely consistent with your character and personage, from a place of complete sincerity, and still come off sounding like a passive aggressive asshole.

Oh, and I guess you can be accused of being a passive aggressive asshole, when in actual fact you're just oblivious to the effect you're having.

For me, it's like an accusation of racism. If I don't see how what I am saying might be construed as racist, it might just be that I have a blindspot of which I wasn't aware.

I try to be polite and positive, and I pretend obliviousness to give people a conversational way around their own worst tendencies.

-CK
 
Tyler Ludens
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Tereza Okava wrote:

Edited to add: I think I hear what you're saying, Tyler. If someone just responds "you're being passive aggressive" instead of hearing what you're saying, that's gaslighting and no less jerky than being passive aggressive.  (or is passive-aggression squared? in either case, it's a formula for an ulcer). Do I understand correctly?



Yes.  The response is just a continuation of miscommunication and does nothing to help the situation.  If a person has poor social skills, they may come off as passive-aggressive when they actually just have poor ability to appropriately relate to other people.  So if they say they didn't mean to be passive-aggressive or ask what they have done to get labeled that, it doesn't help them avoid it next time if the other person just says "See, you did it again!"  Some of us just flat-out haven't a clue how to shape our expressions, posture, or vocal tone to pass as regular folks.  One of the behaviors listed as passive-aggressive is "being sullen."  Shy or socially anxious people are often seen as "sullen" when they really don't know what to say or how to react.
 
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In psychiatry’s infancy, they wanted to come up with a way of categorizing and explaining symptomology. That became the 5 Axis system. Axis I was any mental health disorder that was not mental retardation or a Personality Disorder, things like Schizophrenia, Anxiety, Dementia, Substance Abuse etc. Axis II were the Personality Disorders – Borderline, Narcissistic and Unspecified among others, and Passive Aggressive Personality Disorders (there were multiple subcategories of Passive Aggressive) fell into that last category.

Axis III – Medical Conditions

Axis IV – Psycho-social and Environmental Factors

Axis V – Over all functioning

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder was thought to be born out of an environment in which feelings and needs were suppressed, specifically frustration and anger, but it could include the questioning of anything from a parental or authority figure with unwelcome consequences. It is also thought to have a genetic component. These children grow into adults without the skills, words, frustration tolerance and perspective to cope with these repeating patterns involving resentment, disappointment, control and conflict the same way they did as children.

Then in 2013 when they came out with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V and they combined Axis I, II and III into one category and Axis IV and V into the second category.

The reason behaviors are called Passive Aggressive vs. Passive Aggression is because they used to be referring to the observation of symptoms from the Personality Disorder and bestowing the person with the diagnosis but abbreviated.

I look at myself as either being Teflon or Velcro. (Help me think up a non-stick surface or substance besides Teflon please?)  If I am in a Teflon state of being, I don’t react to what is before me. I don’t have a hook or a loop to attach to whatever is being presented’s hook or loop. But if I am being Velcro, there is something in me that is reactive to what is being presented, which means I have work to do on myself. I cannot fix or change anybody else.

Want to see were you fall on the spectrum? Try this test. But you have to answer honestly. They have some others tests up there too.
https://psymed.info/passive-aggressive_test

One final thought -

We see ourselves and others through the filters of our experiences and unresolved issues, not as we, or others, truly are.
 
Judith Browning
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Thank you Lee, interesting to know some history of the term.

I like what you say here especially....

We see ourselves and others through the filters of our experiences and unresolved issues, not as we, or others, truly are.  



and this...much like Pema Chodron and others say, that we are given circumstances where we need the work...

there is something in me that is reactive to what is being presented, which means I have work to do on myself. I cannot fix or change anybody else.



 
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It means not answering your question.
 
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Nick Kitchener wrote:It means not answering your question.



hahaha...but does it mean not answering at all, as in ignoring completely or does it mean answering with a non answer?

...and does it really matter? I sometimes feel stupefied in real life if a question is thrown at me and I'm expected to answer quickly or even slowly.  Especially if it's something I haven't given much thought to or something more delicate that I would like to answer in kind.  I don't feel like it's being 'passive-aggressive' to pass on the answer, at least for the moment.  Not all of us are clear and concise in an instant.
 
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Lee Gee wrote: (Help me think up a non-stick surface or substance besides Teflon please?)



Duck's Back
 
John Weiland
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Lee Gee wrote:

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder was thought to be born out of an environment in which feelings and needs were suppressed, specifically frustration and anger, but it could include the questioning of anything from a parental or authority figure with unwelcome consequences. It is also thought to have a genetic component. These children grow into adults without the skills, words, frustration tolerance and perspective to cope with these repeating patterns involving resentment, disappointment, control and conflict the same way they did as children.

.......

One final thought -

We see ourselves and others through the filters of our experiences and unresolved issues, not as we, or others, truly are.



Thanks for this, Lee......Wow, I had no idea that Passive-Aggessive was actually a diagnosis in the DSM!  The roots of the condition as noted in your text explains a lot; -- it reflects well my own childhood experience *AND* the enduring effects of that experience on my adult relationships.  Strange then...or maybe not?....that my spouse is an "in your face" personality from the east coast of the US.  You always know where she stands on a matter, and it's taken most of our relationship for me to realize that many of my inner reactions to her behavior stem from my passive-aggressive upbringing.  

As for the 'filters' that we see others through, also agree.  Took me a long time to realize that the twin psychological concepts of 'projection' and 'transference' are quite real and go a long way towards explaining those unique 'triggers' that we each have towards different personalities and situations.  Those trigger points, as Judith noted, are typically areas of unresolved conflict within ourselves, most often going back to our early years, that need work or attention.
 
Judith Browning
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I see a 'thumbs down' on a post above and just would like to say that for me there are no wrong answers to my question...I asked for personal opinions and thoughts not universal truths.

...and then maybe it's an 'accidental' one?
 
Chris Kott
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Respectfully, a thumbs-down doesn't equate with a wrong answer. The pop-up label on the button indicates that it means that someone found the post less-than helpful.

I don't know who did it, and it may have been accidental, but I wouldn't dismiss it. If I had taken issue with the post, it would have been because I found the dismissive nature of references to passive aggression as Orwellian newspeak less than helpful to the discussion of passive aggression. Mind you, I would also have reported it.

Perhaps someone was embracing passive aggression anonymously?

-CK
 
Judith Browning
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Respectfully, a thumbs-down doesn't equate with a wrong answer. The pop-up label on the button indicates that it means that someone found the post less-than helpful.



In that sense, I found the post most 'helpful' because it presented yet another view.  

I can easily accept that someone else did not find it helpful.

 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Lee Gee wrote: (Help me think up a non-stick surface or substance besides Teflon please?)



Duck's Back



Well seasoned cast iron

(duck's back is a good one Tyler!)
 
Villains always have antidotes. They're funny that way. Here's an antidote disquised as a tiny ad:
A rocket mass heater heats your home with one tenth the wood of a conventional wood stove
http://woodheat.net
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