We are victims: someone or something else is to blame for our discontent. “We” are right, “they” are wrong.
We are victims of our upbringing, socio-economic status, government control, and societal injustices, and our unhappiness is not our fault. “We” are innocent; “they” (the government, the corporations, the people who are different from us, the people in power) are mean and wrong.
Each moment is our choice. We each experience different life circumstances and it is our choice how we view them and act on them. “Mistakes” are how we learn.
We are responsible for every situation and interaction we experience. If we appreciate differences, rather than demonizing them, then we don’t need to fight each other.
In our current culture, many people feel dissatisfied. Our worldwide culture encourages everyone to blame someone or something else for our discontent. The wealthy CEOs of Fortune 500 companies can blame their dissatisfaction on the poor or the government for “robbing” them of hard-earned money through taxes and social welfare programs. The poor can in turn blame their discontent upon the rich who “rob” the everyday man of his chance at freedom and fair livelihood (or various factions of the poor can blame each other for being backward or “stealing” jobs). A man can blame his problems on women for failing to be real women, or for “man-hating”; a woman can blame her problems on chauvinist or misogynist men or on a patriarchal society. No matter where we sit socially, we can blame our discontent on the people on the other side of a power dynamic: people “of color” vs. white people, adults vs. youth, immigrants vs. native-born people, indigenous people vs. colonizers, country folk vs. city slickers. Almost everyone in this culture experiences some form of power disadvantage, whether from being born into poverty, being employee working under a boss, or identifying with a non-dominant religion. At some level, everyone feels they are suffering from great unfairness. (Those who don’t blame the injustice on other people blame it on the injustice itself: the problem is due to lack of supportive schooling, lack of adequate health care, deterioration of community, and unskilled government leadership. This amounts to blaming the problem on the problem.) The real root of these “injustices” is our beliefs and values. Our culture keeps us believing that our needs can only be met through power and money, and so we feel we must scramble against each other in order to meet our basic survival needs. This environment breeds a sense of victim-hood in everyone, because no one has the experience of knowing that their needs will be met.
Even those who seem to have succeeded in grasping a larger-than-fair piece of the resource pie are just as emotionally dissatisfied as the poor. It is important to recognize that even though the wealthy 1% might live with the luxury of travel, fancy food, and prestigious jobs and schools, they are just as likely as everyone else to suffer from depression, discontent, emotional issues, loneliness, and chronic stress. The wealthy cling to the very same illusion as everyone else: that monetary wealth, possessions, and power are the best you can achieve and will bring you security and happiness. Even those who achieve millionaire status find that their money cannot buy them happiness, health, or joyful relationships. Although the poor live in fear of their basic needs not being met, the wealthy too live in fear – of loss. Money can easily and quickly. Wealthy and poor alike live in fear, and out of this fear all forsake the present moment to cling to the only hope our culture offers: power over others through might or possession. This is security in our culture, the ability to force others to take care of your needs. And in exchange, you sell your own time to pay for the power. Even people at the highest levels of power are sacrificing what they desire to do in exchange for what they feel they must do for fear of losing control. That is why everyone in our culture can relate to the victimhood mentality: someone or something is doing me wrong and making my life difficult, and that is why I am unhappy.
This sense of victimhood pervades even the predominant patterns of dealing with emotions in our culture. In everyday conversation, someone who slapped a loved one yesterday might explain their behavior by saying, “I couldn’t help it, I was mad,” as if an uncontrollable angry demon took possession of them for an instant. The message is that emotions are just another facet of life which happens to us, over which we have no control, and that these feeling-demons are so powerful that they force us to behave in harmful ways.
What we believe, of course, becomes our reality. If we believe we can’t do anything about our emotions, then we won’t be able to do anything about them. If we believe that our feelings “make us” behave in harmful ways, then our behavior will continue to be out of our control. On a broader scale, because we believe in this culture that the only way to get our needs met is through power/money, we have a world in which resources are distributed that way. The basic amenities we all need to survive are withheld to us except through money and trade and we grow up learning that food, water, and shelter are not our birthright but must be earned through hard work and sacrifice. We learn to believe we were born into an insecure world and have to scrimp and save, scramble and suffer in order to meet our basic needs. At the same time, our cultural obsession with power and money inflate our sense of what our basic needs are and encourage us to strive for ever more, even if we already have a lot relative to other people. It is an environment in which rich and poor alike find themselves scrambling against everyone else to try to claim their slice of the resource pie. None of this will change until we change our beliefs about ourselves and our values for living, regardless of our standing in the social hierarchy.
It does not serve us to demonize others and fight amongst ourselves, even if we feel we have been wronged. Look, for example at the widespread experience of child abuse in our culture. We can view this as an injustice against the child victims, and take action to more aggressively prosecute the perpetrator parents. We can also, however, view it as equally tragic that there are so many people who are hurt enough and out of balance enough to abuse their children. Both sides of the power dynamic suffer, and both are likely to want to blame their suffering on the other. Let us ask what serves the child victims better: harboring bitterness and anger for a lifetime (and possibly taking that out on their own children or other people in their lives), or being supported to healthfully work through one’s emotions and nurture oneself and others? What serves the perpetrator better: being labeled a criminal for life, or being supported to healthfully manage one’s emotions, nurture oneself, and take responsibility for one’s actions?
As long as someone or something else is blamed, regardless of where we sit in the power hierarchies, we go on living discontentedly. Even in the face of all that feels wrong in the world, we are responsible for how we choose to view the situation. If we cling to our belief in tragedy and injustice, then we remain ignorant of our power to change it. As author Richard Bach writes, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” Every situation and every relationship presents an opportunity for growth and transformation. Even if we face obstacles that seem out of our control, we can view them as challenges to our strength and creativity.
The world is dynamic. It is ruled by change. What if instead of putting faith and energy into external possessions and superficial appearances, we collectively channeled our energy into becoming as capable and wise as possible? That new objective gives us a different focus in life: living “richly” by having many different experiences, and developing trust in our ability to land on our feet regardless of circumstances. With that new set of values, we trust our ability to interact and value our brightness of being. Instead of fighting against others for a bigger piece of the dwindling resource pie, we find security in knowing that a kind and generous person will be valued wherever they are (be they a dishwasher or a lawyer). We no longer wallow in self-pity or reactionary anger about how we’ve been wronged by the system and instead choose to channel our energies into healing ourselves, building relationships, and co-creating in the world.
There is an ancient story of an old farmer whose horse ran away. “What bad luck!” his neighbors say. “Bad? Good? We’ll see,” the farmer replies. The horse returns with 3 wild horses alongside it. “What good luck!” the neighbors say. “Bad? Good? We’ll see,” the farmer replies. The next day, while trying to tame one of the horses, the farmer’s son falls and breaks his leg. “What terrible luck!” the neighbors say. “Bad? Good? We’ll see,” the farmer replies. While his son is recovering from injury, a war breaks out and all the able-bodied young men are called to fight. The farmer’s son is spared because of his broken leg. You can imagine what the neighbors said, and the farmer’s reply. This farmer understood that the good news and the bad news is the same, depending on perspective.
Many of us have had challenging childhoods, raised by hectic parents who spend most of their waking lives at work and coming home tired and impatient with our needs and desires. Even those with nurturing parents still face the challenge of living in the current culture with minimal opportunities for personal growth, healthy challenge, or nurturance. Try to see this as an opportunity to find strength and sustenance from within. We wouldn’t be who we are if it weren’t for all the challenges and blessings we’ve encountered along our journey. Although the level of imbalance and pain humans experience in our current culture is extreme, we can still benefit from learning to value the lessons and the strength gained through challenging experiences.
One way or another, we are personally responsible for all the situations we find ourselves in, both physically and emotionally, especially as adults. If we as individuals decide we don’t like our circumstances, then it is up to us to try to change them or to view them as opportunities to grow through acceptance.