Sunday, August 7, 2016

Me Against the World

Do you ever get the feeling like the everyone is against you?  Do you look around at successful people (whatever that means to you) and feel like they had it easier?

I've felt like that my whole life.  I was an outcast in school.  Sometimes I tried to fit in with the crowd, other times I embraced my outsider identity.  But either way, I always felt like people and the larger society were against me.

You could argue endlessly about real versus imagined grievances and what is fair or just.  But hopefully we can agree that some people in some situations face very real obstacles based on class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, and innumerable other social and personal factors.  The world isn't fair, and none of us individually can do much about that.  All that is in our control is how we respond to the people and situations that we encounter.

Some people respond with a victim mentality.  This used to be me.  Whether my grievance was real or imagined, I avoided responsibility for myself and my situation.  I would look around with envy and imagine how my life might be different if only I had the opportunities of that person over there.

But if you have genuine grievances and face real obstacles, why not claim your victim status and blame those responsible?  First of all, blame is not accountability,  But that's another topic.

To identify as a victim is to surrender yourself to circumstance.  This is a mentality that belongs to immaturity.  A young child has no responsibility and needs others to take care of it.  Many parents fail to help their children mature properly.  Overbearing parents actively feed the victim mentality past its useful stage.  People generally stop indulging the victim attitude in adults by their early twenties at the latest.  The mature approach to life's challenges is to be the hero of your biography.  Heroes rise to the challenge of adversity and refuse to be defined by their circumstances.

Some people overcompensate for victimhood, lashing out at the world with anger and aggression.  They channel those fiery emotions into a drive to compete and to prove themselves.  But no matter how much they achieve, this attitude can never be satiated.

"It is not sufficient that I succeed - all others must fail." -Larry Ellison (dubiously attributed to Genghis Khan)

This hyper-aggressive attitude is not the hero mentality, but a superficial imitation of one.  It is the victim attitude, just inverted - a reactionary compulsion to tyrannically dominate one's circumstance.  Both victims and tyrants are defined by their circumstances, even when they overcome.  Heroes define themselves by their values, even when they fail and succumb to their challenges.

In Return of the Jedi, where the other rebels see only a villain, Luke looks beneath Vader's monstrous facade to reveal a weak human being, redeemable despite his flaws.  And Luke triumphs over both Vader and Palpatine without killing either.  A hero never desires to destroy his or her opponents and acquire power.

Recently, I learned to let go of the victim attitude.  And I've seen real, positive results.  First of all, when I assume the world is not against me, I feel less anxiety and stress.  And I feel more confident and optimistic.

But the benefits go well beyond the intangibles.  I've noticed that when I was battling against the world, I reacted defensively to situations and ended up seeing or even creating problems where there weren't any.  For example, in proactively defending my own religions views, I've unintentionally offended Christians who would otherwise have no issue with me.  In this way, the victim/tyrant mentality acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I saw the same pattern recently in a friend of mine.  I posted on Facebook a call for gun rights supporters to offer ideas for reducing gun violence.  And the first response was a friend who completely missed what I actually said.  He reacted by supporting gun rights and attacking gun control.  I did not disrespect or even question his beliefs.  But at that moment, my friend saw me as an enemy.  He saw a hostile criticism in my post, when I was trying to facilitate a conversation that transcended exactly that divisive rhetoric.  But I understand his reaction, because I've done the same sort of thing in the past.

After learning this lesson, I define my identity by my values, not my circumstance.  And I respond to the world from a center of inner strength, developed through taking responsibility for myself.

Thank you for reading.  Use the comment tool to post any thoughts or questions.  And please share my blog with others who might find value in it.  May you be well and happy.

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