We Have Enough Victims, Not Enough Heroes

September 21, 2012

enhanced-buzz-8231-1346085326-2So here’s a weird question:

If you could only keep one of your four limbs, which one would you choose?

I bookmarked this story a couple of weeks ago.  Corporal Todd Love recently ran the Spartan Race, a super-intense, 75 part obstacle course spanning 10.5 miles.  He completed it in 5.5 hours…with only one arm, and no legs.  Corporal Love lost three limbs in Afghanistan.

That should either inspire you beyond words…or make you feel like a sad sack, like me.  This guy is probably doing four times as much with one limb as I am with all four of my limbs.

I’ve been thinking about this story for a couple of weeks now, and just how unusual it is.

Because in our culture, we have a whole lot of victims.  We have very few victims like this.

Our Greatest National Export

With the economy in the tank and our industrial production sagging, what is America known for producing these days?  What is our greatest export?  Is it food?  Cars?  Energy?

I’d say it’s victims.

Yes, victims.  Far and above the ideals of entrepreneurship, of individual effort, of faith and loyalty, our culture seems to produce, reward, and flock to victims.  We nurture a victim mentality.  We sympathize with victims.  Our politicians pander to victims.  The rest of us feel neglected and not-pandered-enough-to, so we say “I’m a victim too! I’ve got it at least as bad as that guy!”  It’s usually not true.  It’s the same way we habitually compare our wealth to the 1% of the population who has more, rather than the 98% who has less.

We don’t have a race to the top anymore.  It’s a contest for who has it worst.

You Are Not a Victim, You Are a Human

That’s not to say that people are never really victims of anything.  I’d say everyone is a victim at some time in their lives.  It might be unfair circumstances, or violent crime, or betrayal by a loved one, or poor health or poverty.  That’s all because we live in a fallen world.  It’s called being human.

I know that sounds meaner than I intend it.  I imagine some of you are getting ready to bark at me about the awful things that have happened to you.  I know that some people have had it worse than others.  I know most people have had it worse than me.

But what is unusual about our culture is how we want people to stay victims forever.  We aren’t encouraging them to rise above the forces that victimized them.  We feed people on sympathy and sad looks.  We tell them it’s not their fault, but what is a real crime is we tell them there is probably nothing they can do about their lot in life either.  We strip them of humanity and tell them “victim” is all they’ll ever be.  There is a huge segment of our population that is so used to this, they can’t imaging politicians talking to them any other way, or people looking at them any other way, other than as victims.  

Let me ask you, how long has it been that you have thought of yourself as a victim?

You Don’t Have to Be a Victim

That’s why Corporal Love is so unusual.  I read his story, and I felt a strange stirring in my chest.  It was a feeling I did not at first recognize.

Stories of people who are perpetual victims stir a lot of feelings in others.  Sympathy, pity, anger, hopelessness, sadness.

But they never awaken the feeling that I felt when I read about Corporal Love…

The feeling was inspiration.

If you are in the habit of nurturing a victim mentality, a martyr complex, or a woe-is-me attitude, people will feel a lot of things about you.  Some people will feel sorry for you.  Some people will look at you with curiosity.  Others will wonder what your problem is, why you can’t get your act together.  But no one will be inspired by you.

We all are victims at some time in our lives.  We continue to identify victims after the fact if we choose it.  

We have all the victims we need.

We need more heroes.  Even if you have to pull yourself off the couch with one arm and no legs, go be a hero today.

What say you?  Are we falling in a pit of malaise and victimhood?  Or is the world really as unfair as everyone says it is?

22 responses to We Have Enough Victims, Not Enough Heroes

  1. I think there can be an addiction to living as a victim, an addiction to all the attention that you get, but that certainly isn’t healthy. I’m going through Donald Miller’s Storyline process right now and I’m at the “Redeeming Negative Turns” module. Where you look at the tragedies you’ve experience and see what God can teach you through these events. How you can use the terrible things that have happened to you to help others. Transforming yourself from a victim to a hero for someone else.

  2. Right on, Matt!

    I think we are inspired by heroes, not victims. It’s too bad our elected leaders are not more heroes than politicians. Sure, Mitt is a business hero and Barrack is hero of many blacks; winning the last election was huge in terms of race. (There are other reasons he maybe a hero, just not for me.) If we look at either of their accomplishments, it does not compare to Love’s.

    If we look at history, heroes win wars for the oppressed, they right injustice, they save the helpless and they rise above their circumstances even when the odds are against them.

    Our culture seems to prop up heroes like Snooki, Eli Manning, Barbara Streisand and Charlie Sheen to name a few. Add to that pathetic party line politicians and you have the whole landscape.

    Then when someone like Love comes along, I have to hear about it on your blog. WTF is wrong with us?

    You are correct in saying that we are all victims of something. Right now, due to the economy, I am unemployed. There are no jobs that even come close to what I was making, so I decided to start my own web business. I could lay around collecting unemployment insurance, getting food stamps, applying for state health care and finding other people to take care of me, or I can get out there and make some work for myself. Sure, I can lose my house because I don’t have a federally guaranteed home loan. But I am taking odd web design jobs.

    Today, instead of being a victim of the worst economic policies in nearly 100 years, I am going to ask you all to visit my web site and refer me some work!

    I have two unemployed kids kids that already think I am a hero, now it’s time to prove it.

  3. There were a few times I was a victim but there was no pleasure in wallowing in it. Living in a pit can be cozy I suppose/
    Perhaps we cry “victim” for consequences of our own choices. It is important to know how you got to where you are, then let God help you get out.

  4. Sure, everybody’s been a victim of something. But how are we supposed to respond to other “victims”–show some mercy and help them out where we can, or tell them to suck it up and wait around for them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

    I throw that out there because I don’t have the answer to that. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s an either/or type of thing.

    Over the few years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve had some patients that drive me up the wall with “woe-is-me” attitudes about health problems and disabilities of their own making (through smoking, obesity, drug use, etc.) I’ve had others that have just been dealt a crummy hand like the guy in your story and manage to muscle through it and carry on.

    One thing I’ve learned from the “woe-is-me” people is this: there are complex reasons for people to not have their $–t together–addiction, mental illness, abuse, abandonment, etc. Also, me telling a “woe-is-me” person “Hey, suck it up! You don’t have it as bad as that guy with no legs!” is not going to get rid of a “victim mentality”–it’s not going to accomplish anything, really, except maybe make them decide to see another doctor.

    I’ve been thinking that maybe my lot in life is to try to treat the “woe-is-me’s” the same as the “up-by-the-bootstrap’s”, and leave the question of “who’s more deserving” up to somebody else.

    • I don’t think it’s a matter of deserving, but a matter of how much we help people stay where they are. I am glad for the safety net of unemployment – it’s just enough to pay my heath insurance and by a few groceries. The mortgage, that’s going to have to wait.

      Last year I had a heart attack an was given 5-10 with the possibility of a heart transplant. I went out got as healthy as I could. I found out 70% of heart patients don’t even finish the meds they are given, not to mention changing their lives. Wow. Sobering. Next month I hope to finish a 1/2 marathon.

      Sure, we want to do good, just not enable.

    • Right on all points.

      Jesus astonished people by saying that someone should receive forgiveness not just 7 times, but 70 times 7. Maybe it’s the same for people who just don’t have it together.

    • What I thought of after reading this was how Jesus responded differently to two different women. To the woman at the well, he merely told her to go and get her husband and when she confessed that she didn’t have a husband, he laid out that he knew her exact situation without any extra suggestions for improvement/Fix-it-fox attitude. To the woman caught in adultery, however, he did tell her to go and sin no more at the very end. We don’t know what tone he took with either woman, just that they were changed. Jesus was perfect, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us figure out when to give people an encouraging hug or an encouraging shove to get them out of their pity party. There is no easy answer.

  5. My father-in-law grew up as a Jew in Nazi Germany. He escaped on the last kinder transport and spent the war in England as a teen in a refugee camp. (The rest of the family escaped to Bolivia, then to the U.S.)

    After the war he attended several prestigious universities, earning a PhD from Stanford, then worked as an research scientist. He married, had 6 children, owned houses, cars, and lived a comfortable lifestyle.

    Yet, when he visited our church a few years ago, he went up afterwards and introduced himself to the pastor as a refugee. It seems that 75 years of success was not enough to change his mindset as a victim. I agree with David, above. Some people are addicted to victimhood.

  6. Amen and Amen. As a member of the 53% working and paying taxes and NOT being a victim. I thank you for this post. There is an addiction to being a victim in this nation. The entitled cannot, will not, and really don’t ever want to take responsibility for themselves. These are the 47% Mr. Romney is not concerned about. (concerned, meaning concerned about getting their vote. Seriously, what do people think.)

    • God forgive me for giving into the snark but—

      Before you get too comfortable on your high horse there, you may want to remember that a good percentage of those “47% that don’t pay income tax” are the disabled, the working poor, minors working part-time, and retirees who already paid into Social Security. Oh, and don’t forget that the working folks who don’t make enough to pay income tax STILL pay sales tax and payroll taxes just like everyone else. So the whole notion of 47% of the nation being entirely made up of freeloaders who “don’t want to take responsibility for themselves” is pretty darn simplistic.

      But congrats on being part of the non-victim 53%. Maybe someone ought to send you a medal.

      • I believe Romney was referring to income taxes. Sales tax, SSI and med are not income taxes, nor is property or excise tax.

        But let’s face it, people on government subsidized programs from NASA to welfare are not likely to vote for someone that is going to cut a budget.

        • I agree that he was referring to income taxes. What I was getting at was that in the same breath Romney (and happygirl) equated not paying income tax with “not taking responsibility for yourself”.

          Therefore, I was trying to make the point that plenty of folks that don’t pay income tax 1) are doing so for “non-freeloading” reasons and 2) are actually still paying plenty of taxes in some other form.

          I pay income taxes, too. I just don’t think that gives me a right to consider myself morally superior.

  7. Dude, that guy is THE man. I can’t imagine only keeping 1 limb.

    The title of this post says it all. I’m with you and I’m tired of all the whining and complaining we do. Interesting perspective of “victims” being our greatest export.

  8. Appreciate this post Matt. When I was growing up I had a great mom, but like everyone else, she had her strengths and weaknesses. One of her weaknesses was that she frequently lived life from a victim stance; as an adult I’ve had to work a bit harder to make sure that I don’t follow suit. I adore reading accounts such as the one you mention here of Corporal Love because these stories do inspire. I also seek to just keep looking around me in daily life for blessings and to make sure I tell God thanks. Lately there’ve been some very challenging situations in my job and I’ve struggled with my attitude, struggled with feeling like a victim-but the bottom line is that, to a large extent, we get to choose who we want to be. So it delighted me today when a couple of co-workers commented on how I always seem so at peace and happy-that’s who I want to be, not some bitter victim.

  9. I saw that story as well and found it extremely inspiring as well. How can anyone complain about their situations in life when you have guys like Mr. Love doing the kind of things he is doing?

  10. “But what is unusual about our culture is how we want people to stay victims forever. We aren’t encouraging them to rise above the forces that victimized them. We feed people on sympathy and sad looks. We tell them it’s not their fault, but what is a real crime is we tell them there is probably nothing they can do about their lot in life either. We strip them of humanity and tell them “victim” is all they’ll ever be. There is a huge segment of our population that is so used to this, they can’t imaging politicians talking to them any other way, or people looking at them any other way, other than as victims.”

    WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!? Seriously. Who, specifically are these “victims” you’re referring to? Who, specifically, is this “WE” that are telling these “victims” they can’t do anything about their situation? Who tells them that “victim” is all they’ll ever be? Which part of the population, specifically, is so used to this?

    This is probably the worst straw man argument I’ve seen in a long time – set up only to knock down with your thinly veiled Conservative Christian ideas cloaked in religious piety. This is nothing but a “blame the victim” attack piece. I’m not surprised, this ignorant attitude is so prevalent in the Conservative Christian Right that you’re obviously a part of. You’re really going to have to be way more specific and tell your readers exactly who these people are that you are referring to – both your so called “victims” and the “we” who you say keep them down.

  11. “But no one will be inspired by you.” Exactly the travesty of this state of mind. I think it is a tragic lack of a firm identity that predisposes us to seize our victimhood. We don’t have the confidence to be who we are so we latch onto this. It gives us an identity and it’s theoretically “not our fault” it happened to us so we feel it is safe to nurture it.

    “Oh, that’s the guy who was _________ by ______ a few years ago.” Just fill in the blanks and make a list of the people you know who fit it. Eye opener, Matt.

  12. We somehow feel that if we complain that people will, in fact, feel sorry. Maybe give us a handout. But in reality what I have noticed is instead of empathy we launch into a game of who has the most problems. And of course we play to win. I really can’t remember the last time I heard two people fight over who has the greatest victory, but it was just yesterday I heard two people argue over who’s life was harder. Hmmmmm. Interesting.