A few months ago I was on Twitter, a thing I always regret doing, when I spotted a post like so many I’ve seen before. A fairly prominent female writer from a famous magazine was posting about being a victim because a male reader had sent a nasty message talking down to her. It was the kind of messages I receive from readers often, but because this writer has chosen to see everything in a tribalistic manner, she framed the situation as something only female writers must endure. I can tell you from firsthand experience that’s patently false, but there’s little doubt I would be summarily dismissed for saying so in many circles. After all, I’m not allowed to be a victim for reasons almost anyone could likely enumerate in their sleep these days.
Screaming you’re a victim has reached pandemic levels in our society. It’s a problem I’ve noticed steadily rising since the 1990s, but absolutely exploding in the last few years. Now, people from a whole range of groups are celebrated for declaring publicly they’re victims, like it’s some statement of power.
The reality is declaring you’re a victim doesn’t make you powerful or strong or even brave. It actually does the exact opposite. You’re surrendering and admitting defeat by telling yourself you’re a victim, let alone broadcasting that message to others. Plus, as we can clearly see now, this constant declaration of victimhood spreads like a cancer through society. On top of that, you’re not being the least bit unique since in a myriad of ways we’re all victims.
What these victim-celebrating types don’t realize and maybe don’t even care about is there’s no telling what deep problems others might be dealing with in a private way. In fact, when I have dared to bring this point up in some circles the immediate response by those people has been to cry about what problems they’re facing, while screaming that nobody understands or cares about them. It’s rare that the response is to wonder what other people might be experiencing. Yes, it’s a disgustingly narcissistic viewpoint, hence why I call it a societal cancer.
Not everyone likes to air their dirty laundry, despite all the societal encouragement otherwise, so you might not know your grumpy coworker’s father just died unexpectedly, or that a person who just cut you off in traffic might’ve just been laid off, or that the rude cashier at the store woke up that morning to find their spouse had run off with a secret lover. I could go on but hopefully you get the idea.
This natural world is beautiful. I love to explore in nature and drink in the amazing scenery, sounds, and smells. Thankfully I was taught by wise men when I was young that while nature is breathtaking, it’s also incredibly hostile. The natural world is constantly trying to kill us. My favorite line in the movie World War Z comes when the biologist states that “Mother Nature is a serial killer.” Let that one sink in.
Because of my perspective, certain aspects of the pandemic response have been amusing and/or perplexing to me. It’s exposed how many people either never knew the cruel truth about nature or had forgotten all about it. We hide in our cities and try to insulate ourselves from the brutality which surrounds us, but as Michael Crichton so aptly observed in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way” to kill us.
So there you have it, we’re all victims, especially when it comes to the natural world. This is one of the most compelling base elements of Breaking Bad, Hamlet, Oedipus Rex, and so many other great tragedies. It’s universal to the human experience.
But there’s a better way to think about having been victimized or having gone through a particularly difficult challenge. Instead of focusing on how it’s torn you down, left you feeling like there’s no justice in the world, made it difficult to trust yourself or others, etc. you can instead allow it strengthen you. This is the refiner’s fire, where adversity acts to purify your soul while making you malleable, then you’re reshaped and hardened into something far more useful. If you’ve ever watched a blacksmith make something complex like a sword, you know it’s a long process shaping that metal, which must endure searing heat and quite the beating.
I’ve been studying about Navy SEALs BUD/S, the selection process where candidates endure weeks and weeks of torture and demanding training. In particular, Hell Week is designed to see who will push through extreme adversity and give it their all, separating the doggedly determined from those who give up when things get too rough. The process seems unnecessarily brutal and at times pointless, but the end result is something you can’t really argue against.
We tell ourselves stories all the time. What do you tell yourself about who you are? Are you a weak victim who can’t overcome adversity? Are you unfairly put upon because of who or what you are? Or are you a tough survivor who keeps getting up no matter how rough things get? It’s not the entire battle, but if you tell yourself you can and will fight through all kinds of difficulties you’re most likely going to find a way, especially if you keep repeating that to yourself while giving it your all.
Yes, some people start off with saying positive affirmations every morning or something else designed to get them thinking positively. I’ve done these and quite frankly I think they don’t work, at least not for me. I know people who swear by them. Instead, I find working on achieving small victories to build momentum, then continuing to focus on every victory, even in the face of defeat, is far more effective. I also find remembering that I have a higher power to petition is a huge factor in keeping me going, and that’s something nobody can take away from me.
Image by Steven Symes. All rights reserved for this blog post text and the accompanying photograph.