I grew up in a low income neighborhood where things were probably a little rougher than average. It was mostly immigrant families who came here with very little, in search of better opportunities. In neighborhoods like these, opportunities were scarce so you learned to fight for every opportunity and every advantage. Sometimes that meant finding ways to sneak two lunches at school. Sometimes it meant stealing part of the lunch from the person who got up to go to the bathroom. Everyone was always being tested – if you left an opening, you got hit.
Sounds like a rough place, but it wasn’t without ethics. Those with disabilities were always off limits, and often befriended by most popular kids. If someone targeted them, they were immediately protected, and often by the toughest kids. Others were simply known for being too nice to be picked on, and were supported for taking the high road. The rest of us.. were fair game.
The appeal of victimhood doesn’t resonate with me and recounting through my childhood, I might I understand why. When you grow up in an environment where just about everyone is starting at a disadvantage, working your ass off to get to the status quo is the status quo. Drawing attention to our circumstances for the sake of sympathy or outside intervention just isn’t where we choose to put our energy. Instead, we work hard in school, become productive members of society, and give back to the community so that we can solve this problem for future generations. Today, our community center has the largest food security program in the city, one of the best basketball programs in the region (NBA Cares just redid our gym), and gets 75% of it’s funding through fundraising – largely from community alumni. This is how I learned to deal with disadvantage.
The other remarkable thing that happens in this neighborhood is that we produce great people. We’re not without our bad eggs, but generally speaking, we’re polite, kindhearted and well intentioned. Even the friendships made there are more like family than friends now. We were terrible to each other, but only when it didn’t matter. When it mattered, we would fight tooth and nail for each other. Perhaps it left me with a different perspective on when things mattered and when they didn’t.
This is why I struggle to relate to what appears to be a developing culture of victims. Where I might see an opportunity to redeem myself, it’s as if they see an opportunity to draw attention to themselves. It’s often under the premise of ‘raising awareness’ which seems well-intentioned but it’s a somewhat incomplete strategy on its own. There’s a wide gap between being aware of something and understanding it. Fortunately for all of us, awareness generates dialogue and dialogue helps to develop and circulate good ideas which ultimately help us understand what we’re actually dealing with and how to make progress. The problem though, is that the solution is to popularize redemption.
Redemption isn’t just inspiring, it’s informative. It says yes, you can get dealt a shitty hand and still come out on top – here’s proof. It says look at what I just did, take what you can and apply it to your situation. The better the story, the more viral that information becomes. Some of the greatest stories in human history are based in redemption, but you can’t have redemption or all that fantastic personal growth that comes with it without adverse circumstances. I can’t help but think that with the right perspective, adversity can be seen as positive. It’s when we suffer that we learn the most about ourselves and the universe around us. Adversity is that fuel that pushes us forward in the most meaningful of ways. For the record, this is all from personal experience.
The problem with popularizing victimhood is that it’s encouraging the wrong behavior. It’s like celebrating the loss rather than celebrating the win. It’s also creating a sense of pessimism where people are spending more time looking for ways in which they’re being harmed than they are looking for ways in which they’re being loved. And by the time we’ve all identified as a victim of something, what have we accomplished? Do we still make a conscious effort to sympathize for a victim when everyone’s a victim? Do we continue to use the word victim, both for someone who was killed in a mass shooting and for someone who was whistled at on the street? Where I grew up, the word victim was often reserved for a drug overdose or a homicide, the kind of event you couldn’t overcome. Now it’s a hashtag, part of how we identify, and indicative of social virtue.
Identity politics, where your social status and implied virtue is linked to your level of victimhood. A racial minority? 1 point. Female? 1 point. Gay? 1 point. Disabled? 1 point. Straight white male? – 3 points. I have to admit, there is some irony in how the popularization of victimhood has systematically marginalized straight white males.
As much hate as they get, this isn’t as much of a white guy thing as it is an old people thing. They want control because they’re afraid of what will happen if they’re not in control. They’re intolerant because they’re afraid they don’t know how to deal with change. In a world of uncertainty, they’re afraid and are desperately trying to keep things the same. In a world of change, we’re quickly taking over.
Let’s focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we’re going to create.