A person crossing a street has more power over an oncoming car than the driver of the multi-ton behemoth of steel does over the pedestrian. Why? Because that pedestrian is a potential victim. The driver of the automobile stops because they fear hurting the pedestrian. The pedestrian, then, often walks across the street no matter what the light says and expects the cars to stop for them. And if they get hit, well, they might be hurt a little, but look at the million-dollar fruits of that lawsuit!
Our society has become so prosperous, so spoiled with luxury and choices and rights, that we no longer fear the things animals in the wild fear—direct consequences to bad decisions and weakness. We’d rather halt pain in our lives than actual injury. Death itself is a shocking and irregular and almost unnatural thing to experience. We go out of our way to boost up the little guy, to reach out to the disenfranchised because we expect life to be pleasant and enjoyable. We think we have a right to happiness, rather than the pursuit thereof.
Cue the trend of victimhood spreading wide. We want power, we want wealth, and we deserve it because we, or at least those like us, or at least those like us in the past, have been hurt or put down in some way. With the rapid ascent of identity politics in universities and general societal interaction, this new culture of victimization has led to the splintering of the American nation. The more we focus on people’s race, sex, class, or other superficial category, the more we forget the rich, complex, and individual soul at the core of each person, and reduce their life story to that of a mere “-ite.”
The culture of victimization harms us spiritually in two distinct ways:
1) It engenders conflict and division. In claiming victim status we accuse, and that creates two sides naturally at odds. Contention, especially unnecessary contention, is of the devil, and tears asunder what God is trying to seal together. The reverses the work of the Atonement and delays a Zion people perhaps indefinitely. Read 4th Nephi for the story of a unified people brought down into the grave by splintering into various “-ites.”
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
(We’ve all been through far more than can be expressed with a few identity labels anyway. So few talk about mental illness, overcoming depression, fighting through a death in the family, the quality of friends and the quality of family and the quality of the relationship between the mother and father, the values one was raised with, etc., etc. So many different and unknowable variables—combined with our own agency—are what make us who we are. )
2) Victimizing ourselves too much—yes, even if it is a legitimate grievance—gives us the idea that we lack all accountability for our present state and persuades us that we don’t have to change or grow. No, instead, the other person does. “The responsibility for my failure lies in this other fellow across the street that is harming me in some way, real or imaginary.” This mind set kills our agency, and makes us mere objects, smothering the potential to grow in response to opposition. When we are all a nation of victims, no one is left to improve the world. We are stunted in our upward trajectory. This is also the goal of the adversary.
From a cursory look at global politics in western civilization, the time of the ruling of the strong, or those with the appearance of strength, is largely over. (Donald Trump seems to have claimed some of that territory, but what he does isn’t strength, it’s childish temper tantrum: all egomaniacal bluster and threat without any grit or conviction to back it up, and all of it just to get attention, respect, and influence, which he would [and should] otherwise lack.)
In a way this shift away from “might is right” is a good thing, at least, on an interpersonal level. We don’t want those with superior strength (whether that’s through physical power or the backing of the mobbing crowd) to be bossing around or intimidating the helpless pedestrian. But we also don’t the pedestrian using his newfound power to mock and abuse the driver of the car he’s stopped in the road. We should not strive for a pendulum society, where strength goes back and forth between different groups over time. We want to be standing still. Respect going both ways. Love and humility touching our every interaction with our fellow man.
Frankly, it is easier to be a victim. It is easier to complain and whine and cry that we’re hurt and oppressed and offended. That’s because it is the path of least resistance. It’s the path that streams of water take in the face of gravity, because water relies on gravity’s power to take it forward, while we might fail to realize that gravity may take us forward, but it also takes us down.
Going uphill, meanwhile, relies on our own exertion. The act of climbing a mountain depends on what we choose and how hard we push ourselves toward higher goals. It’s harder, so it’s the path less taken, by default. But it also takes us higher—towards heaven.
There is little pleasure in seeing the view from a mountain peak if we’re simply helicoptered up there. It’s nice, but not satisfying. We haven’t changed as a result. We’re just in a different location. That’s why our priority shouldn’t be simply getting up that mountain one way or another. Our goal should be the strength such a climb imbues on us. The self-betterment we naturally receive from staggering through the mire, pulling up one leg at a time.
This is not to say that there are not legitimate victims in this world. Of course there are. And of course the sword of justice must sometimes fall on whoever is in the wrong. In claiming status as a victim, however, we need to be careful our purpose is not to hold some kind of threat, and thus power, over our fellow man. We can’t be too quick to accuse others and excuse ourselves. We should take opposition, even that which is directly thrown at us by other children of God who are in the wrong, as an invitation to rise against it, and grow, and choose to act, and forgive, not react, and return an eye for an eye.
The act of forgiveness is much, much harder than accusing and persecuting—especially when one does not receive earthly rewards in return. Forgiveness requires not only the imperfections of those responsible for the offense, but the flaws of our own character, how we really may not be that much better than the one who wronged us. And yet it brings people together in a way nothing else can. And when two opposing people reject the natural man and instead come together, they become better. They ascend all the closer to a Zion-like people, whether or not they’re Mormon.
Victimhood can be real—but these days it is all too often an excuse. If we never adjust our sail to the winds, we can’t complain when those winds take us where we don’t want to be, and demand a special rescue mission from the Coast Guard when we find ourselves washed up on some deserted island. Even in the face of strong winds, we all have access to our own helm to steer our boat. The bitter winds of our lives might be strong, but we still have a responsibility to fight them. If we don’t even try, we are denying the very core of our own identity as free agents, as children of God, and only widening the chasm between us when, more than ever, we should be reaching out for unity.
16 You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.
17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. (D&C 123)