Getting something off your chest is one thing but when does it become just an indulgent rhapsody of misery.
Someone I know pretty well but shall remain nameless was caught drink driving. They were barely over the limit but, nonetheless were treated to an experience of the full extent of the law. Lucky for them, as it was a first offence their punishment took the form of a one year driving ban and pleasant afternoon at driving school, a fine and a partridge in a pear tree (it was Christmas time).
Months later, when regaling the story which, by now, they could see the funny side of, they ended their tale of woe with, " and that’s the last time I’m ever going to help the police!"
"What???" I said. Help them??? I thought. You broke the law and they were doing their job. Did you go over the drink-drive limit simply to give them something to do? Or did the legality of mixing booze and driving pass you by? Personally I feel the authorities have been pretty explicit regarding their position on this matter. Drivers don’t need a helpful rhyme to help them remember that it’s considered a no, no. “Wine then beer. You’ll feel – the full weight of the law”
I found it a very peculiar thing to say. Implicit in the statement was the notion that in some way they were a victim of the system, an unfortunate yet innocent bystander caught in the cross-fire of that pesky ratbag, legality.
A teacher once said to me that we are never more brilliant than when were are justifying our poor behaviour.
Playing the victim in certain situations is very seductive. It feeds our sense of righteousness and is a prime opportunity to fish for sympathy.
Sometimes we just don't want to be accountable for our responsibility in how a situation has turned out so we put a spin on it that casts us as the unwitting casualty and the perpetrator, as the Wicked Witch of the West, psychotically committed to our demise. We even add grotesque impersonations and embellishment to maximise our apparent victimhood.
On Facebook recently, a friend was lamenting the poor service of Ryan Air, a company who seemingly specialises in appalling customer service. He’d missed his flight by mere seconds and was venting on-line about the fascist stubbornness of the woman at the gate who refused to allow him to board. The comments section under his post became a book of condolences longer than the queen mother's, that was until a mutual friend posted a no-frills comment which brought the conversation to an abrupt end. "You were late. Own it"
Wow, I thought, harsh. At first I was tempted to make some sarcastic quip about his abundant sympathy but then I thought, in a way, he was right. Though he’ll win no gongs for Empath of the Year, Ryan Air are reknowned for treating customers like eighth class citizens, therefore playing the victim really serves no purpose. Everyone knows what they’re like. You'll never hear someone extolling the virtues of an airline where you’re pestered to buy everything from slabs of molten hot pizza to lottery tickets. No one gets off a Ryan Air flight saying, "to be honest BA and Ryan air are much of a muchness". Further, the one truism about their service is, they pride themselves in being on time. Letting on late boarders would probably compromise their statistics. And let's face it, if Ryan Air flights are late, then they really are just a shit airline.
I see and hear a lot of victimhood in the entertainment industry. In comedy you'd think people would have developed a sense of humour (and more important a thicker skin) about these things. However, it's easy to fall into this state as I’ve discovered first hand.
It takes many forms, such as unnecessary anger that your ‘big break' hasn't happened, blaming the powers-that-be for not making ‘interesting’ choices and picking you. Whatever you’re not seems to be exactly what you think they’re looking for and feeds straight into the sense of injustice.
I've heard countless reasons people feel they've been sidelined from stardom. It's because they’re not a white guy in skinny jeans, it's because they wear skinny jeans, it's because they’re black, it's because they’re a man and women are getting all the breaks, or because they’re a woman and the whole thing is rigged for men and so it continues sure as night follows day. Undoubtedly it can be tough when it looks like everyone else's careers are accelerating and yours seems to be in reverse but it really is a matter of perception. For every young, white guy in skinny jeans, for example, who makes it, there'll be a multitude who don't. What excuse are they allowed to use? My point isn't about comedy though. There’s a broader point, about doing yourself and the people around you a favour by not playing the victim.
It shouldn’t need saying, at this stage, but just to expel doubt, by playing the victim, I’m of course not talking about people who have suffered some awful occurrence. I don’t think starving Ethiopians should “pull themselves together” or families of murder victims, should spare a thought for the poor murderer. There are instances when we have clearly been the victim of something horrific but even then, once the initial shock passes and recovery begins, how we hold the incident can be defining. Some people gain strength and transformation from it whilst others are sucked into a mire of pain and remain there. Even when we are genuinely victims, it seems there’s still a choice that can be made about how we move on from that moment.
But I’m not talking about those life-changing events. I’m really talking about those minor whinges that we turn into epic dramas without thinking about what we are declaring about who we are and how we’re representing ourselves in the world.
And I’m not saying we should adopt a stiff upper lip and just take everything life throws at us. Sometimes we need to do a brain dump, getting everything that’s bugging us out, so that we can let it go. But there is a difference between needing to offload and indulging your misery. While sometimes it’s necessary to talk through a disappointment or problem, it’s another thing to slip into a woe-is-me oration that gains mass quicker than a Swiss Alps avalanche during a yodelling competition.
When we bring some responsibility to our speaking, we do everyone a favour including ourselves. One of the most powerful things a person can do is be responsible in and for their own lives, particularly around the events and circumstances that show up in their space.
Of course something's are out of our control but not as many as we'd like to believe and if we move into being responsible rather than a victim we start to have a richer life. If you have friends who aren't treating you well rather than weather it and complain to anyone who'll listen, do something about it. If your boss is a bully, rather than cry in the bathroom every afternoon, take action. It's hard, I know but in the long term, it really is the only workable solution.
In the classic sphere of influence diagram, it clearly shows what we can control, what we can influence and what we have no control over. Those things that annoy us but are outside of our control of influence, we should accept. If we aren't going to take action around something, why get upset about it? This may sound defeatist but isn’t the futile and ceaseless complaining about something you cannot change equially so?
Of course there a difference between discourse and discussion and constant moaning. For example, someone putting inflammatory posts on Facebook about a global issue isn’t, one could argue, taking responsibility for making a difference and are merely stirring the pot to feed their self-righteousness but a person speaking about that same crisis at a rally, one could argue could influence and change. On further consideration, I think the spirit in which information is disseminated also defines how responsible someone is being. It's not an exact science but I think we instinctively know when we're being victims and when we're being vital.
We all have a little bit of a victim living inside of us, it's a facet of the ego but it doesn't have to be the place we live from and view the world. There is an alternative. The victim is a doe-eyed imp that tricks us into playing a conniving game which entices its players (us) and the played (our listener) in.
Next time you catch your victim tuning up its melancholy violin, snap its strings and just get on with what it is you need to do. Have a moan, if you need to flush out the pity party energy then move the hell on. As much as people will give you the sympathy you long for and the agreement you crave, a moaner is unattractive and will, subconsciously be what people begin to label you as in their head. “Oh here they come. Strap yourself in for moan-athon”.
What is much more attractive is a person who somehow, despite the fact that they go through the same turmoil, trials and tribulations as the rest of us, manages to dust themselves off and start again. As the Japanese proverb goes, they “fall down seven times and get up eight”. They're accountability when goings don't go their way. They’re pleased for others even when they've experienced disappoint. They're honest when they feel envy but never imagine denying someone else their win, they see themselves as responsible for their path, they affect and change what they can and accept the things they can't, they’re radiant and solid people, they call you on your bullshit, politely, they’re a beacon in a storm and every person, if they don't know someone like this, should get someone like this in their lives. I'm lucky to know a few and the people who long to continuously play the victim in their lives, are no longer in mine. I just leave them to it.
This is dedicated to all the people I've met on life's journey who've inspired me with their gracious ability “get up eight times”.