by Troy Chapman
(published November 03)
Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me — except the ones I speak to myself. And of all the words I might speak to myself there are four that are more destructive than any others.
When I speak these words I lose all my sacred power; I stop growing; I become toxic to life. Yet, like a moth drawn to its own fiery destruction I find myself too often wanting to say them, “I am a victim.” And from what I see in the world I’m not alone.
Victimhood is attractive. I have a theory that this is related in part to a consumer economy. Our “conspicuous consumption” depends on dissatisfaction. If people aren’t in some way dissatisfied with their lives they’re not going to buy a lot of things they don’t need, so the first product of all advertising is dissatisfaction. It tells us we “deserve better” then promises that this product or that will correct the “injustice.” It’s a short step from here to anger and a sense of perpetual injustice, the idea that life is an injustice and that we are victims.
Some people translate this into crime. Others translate it into self-pity which is expressed in addictions and eating disorders and violence and greed and a thousand other dysfunctional thinking patterns. It’s all based in that little four-word thought, “I am a victim.”
These four words can lead whole peoples into spiritual insanity as well. Hitler couldn’t have murdered millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and political rivals if he hadn’t first sowed this thought in the mind of the German people (or found it there and cultivated it). Nor could Pol Pot of Cambodia or any of a number of other genocidal leaders in recent history. Their power to do evil rests on this foundation, we are victims. After that has been accepted by the people, leaders need only point to the people they want to destroy and say, “They are to blame.”
American leaders use exactly the same tactic when they want to expand the prison industry, exercise the death penalty, or wage dubious wars that are more about political and economic power than national defense.
Yet despite the enormity of evil committed in the name of victimhood on the collective/political level, it causes even more suffering on the personal/spiritual level. The moment we embrace it, all spiritual growth stops and our spiritual power (our power to do good) immediately begins to diminish.
I have struggled for years with the victim mindset. In my past I’ve caused untold harm to others, but my life has also given me plenty of ammunition for feeling sorry for myself. I can point to disadvantages almost from birth, to one bad break after another and when I see the world through the eyes of my ego-self, I feel that pull toward self-pity. We all do. We all have plenty of our own stuff that we can use to identify ourselves as victims and that’s precisely why we shouldn’t.
If “I am a victim,” are the four most destructive words on the planet, then “I am not a victim” are the most powerful. When we trade being a victim for “I’m not a victim,” we regain access to all our personal/spiritual power as human beings and we get rid of the mountain of unnecessary suffering generated by thinking of ourselves as victims.
We can be hurt by life. We will be hurt by life but whether or not we transform pain into unnecessary suffering, hurt into harm, will depend on whether we see ourselves as a victim or simply as a human being who is experiencing pain like all other human beings. When we refuse to be victims, we “get over it” and keep going. In our best moments we can even transform our pain into compassion for others. I’ve never done that as a victim.