Ran for office but didn’t get elected? Overlooked for a promotion? Butt of a bad joke?
In each case, you might be the victim of sexism, racism and/or ageism.
But are you really a victim or are you just feeling sorry for yourself?
Have you suffered lasting harm, a hurtful slight, or a minor inconvenience?
And if you were affected negatively, was it intentional or random?
And who decides? Are you a victim just because you say you are?
These are huge questions that define all political, professional and personal relationships.
There’s no easy answer because every situation is different and context matters.
Except many people don’t like the complexity, uncertainty and vagueness of “it depends.”
So a simple more than/less than formula is applied. Whomever holds less power in a relationship is the victim, which makes whoever holds more power the oppressor.
This calculus has been used so long throughout the social sciences and the humanities that it’s taken as gospel and its adoption has spread through society and culture.
And it’s true.
Except when it isn’t.
The power equation is important but it’s equally important to recognize how easily it is manipulated. As it suits them, people say they have less power than they really do or say others have more power than they really do.
That’s how politicians, business leaders and rich and famous people can claim with a straight face and/or teary eyes that they have been victimized by journalists. That’s how journalists can claim they are victims when governments don’t give them handouts and people decide to put their trust in other news sources. And that’s how so many people claim so often that they are the hapless victims of everything, from government mismanagement and corporate greed to deceitful celebrity endorsements and misinformation.
This self-victimization is an endless blame loop that requires neither second thought nor personal responsibility. It also feeds itself. Questioning anyone’s victim status becomes further victimization, another wrong requiring acknowledgement, acquiescence, and apology.
Worst of all, reality itself is turned upside down to justify bad behaviour.
Intolerance of dissenting views in the name of tolerance is now tolerable. Inequality and cheating to make things fair are now sensible. Illegal conduct in the name of justice is now righteous. Hypocrisy to get to the truth is now honest.
So long as you’re either the victim or claim to represent victims, everything is allowed, you’re never in the wrong and every bad thing that’s ever happened – real or imagined - is completely someone else’s fault.
That used to be the sole domain of spoiled children.
But not anymore.
Neil Godbout is The Citizen’s editor.