On Being a Victim | Nov 2000

FMBR Editorial: Nov, 2000

On Being a Victim

Marshall Pease

What inspires this editorial is an advertisement. It shows a lady on vacation in a foreign country. She has left her purse in a cab which left before she thought if it. As a result, she lost all the money she had brought along for the trip. She is calling somebody in desperation trying to find some way to recover the situation. What caught my attention is that, after frantically describing what happened, she wails that she “doesn’t understand!” What is there not to understand? She made a stupid error. If she has been lucky, she would have escaped unharmed. She was not lucky. What else is there to say?

To criticize the contents of advertising is, as the saying goes, like shooting ducks in a barrel. However, ads are chosen because the advertiser thinks they will sell their product or services. Therefore ads say something about the culture they address. Or at least what somebody thinks about that culture. My criticism here is therefore not so much with the ad, but with the people who approved it and those who accept it as ordinary nonsense.

We are all stupid at times. If we acknowledge the fact without self-pity and accept responsibility for our stupidity, we have a chance to learn from the error. We may learn enough to avoid repeating similar errors in the future. We may even learn to stay aware. Otherwise the whole episode will become pure loss. The lady could at least learn not to leave her purse in a taxi. She might even learn to keep better track in general of all the things that are important to her. But, as long as she refuses to “understand” and holds instead to the conviction that she did not deserve what happened, she will not learn about why she was so careless in the first place. She may learn something about the dangers of the world, she will not learn anything about herself.

It is my belief that the great opportunity we face as we live our lives is to learn about ourselves. The world changes. The threats it offers are many and varied and often unpredictable. The issue is to learn how to respond to the threats in the most constructive way and why other patterns of behavior are not constructive. We learn by paying attention to our own actions and their consequences. When we blame the world for our misfortune and fail to consider what part we played in making it happen we miss a golden opportunity.

Facing what seems threatening, we may “luck out” or not. When we are fortunate, we rarely learn much. It is when we are not so fortunate that we may find the opportunity to learn something about ourselves. To do so we must acknowledge the failure as our own. This may seem wrong. We may indeed have been unlucky. The situation may have developed in ways entirely beyond all reasonable expectation. A belief in our own innocence may be entirely justified. Yet there is always the chance that we may find some nugget of truth if we will but consider how we dealt with the situation – and how we might have but did not – and accept the truth however unpleasant.

We are all stupid at times. That seems to be part of the human condition. The issue is what we do with the experience when we are. Are we willing to use it constructively? Even when we are innocent! Our culture seems to encourage seeing ourselves as victims. If we give in to it, we are truly victims, but now to the culture. Yet even there, it is we who have decided to be victims and so have turned away from what we might have learned.

Marshall Pease, Nov. 2000