Victim or Survivor
I am especially fond of the phrase: “Get off the cross, somebody needs the wood!” I know, I know, the phrase is harsh, but perhaps sometimes harshness is necessary. The phrase speaks to one’s impulse see oneself as a martyr.
We all know these glorious individuals. The co-worker who is constantly afflicted: “I worked so hard and everyone just dumped their stuff on me. I guess I have to do everything.” The parent who complains: “Why do only horrible things happen to me? Nothing good ever happens.” They are constantly afflicted. Others are always attacking them. Anyone is a possible attacker, looking to victimize them. They wear victimhood as a badge of honor.
Strangely, we also know other individuals who are the exact opposite. When they are faced with the overwhelming obstacles of bigotry, violence or suffering they do not identify themselves as victims. They see themselves as survivors, boldly moving forward in a difficult and dangerous world. They also resist those who would label them victims because they know that victims are dead. Doesn’t the word “victim” imply that someone has died?
Isn’t that the truth? When we label ourselves victims, when we label others as victims, we limit ourselves and others. We attempt to limit our personal agency and the agency of others. We hold ourselves and others back. At the same time, those who see themselves as victims also see that just as they are not responsible for their current predicament, they are also not responsible for their actions. Soon, those who are victims can find themselves becoming victimizers.
The term victim limits one’s ability to cope and survive an ordeal. You must, instead, succumb to the attack. The victim label attempts to thwart one’s ability to see oneself as an individual, capable of making choices. Perhaps our choices are limited, but we can still choose.
I am not saying that we not tell the truth. We must speak out when we see people being attacked. We must also speak about our experiences of being attacked. Through that sharing, through that standing up, we do not allow silence to kill us, and make us victims. Through the sharing we become survivors, victors over adversity. We get to tell our own story, not allowing someone to tell the story for us, limiting our possibilities.
I say that we resist using the term "victim." We should not use it when talking about the experiences of others, nor should we use this term when we talk about ourselves. We are not victims! People may attack us, people may mistreat us, but their treatment will not dictate how we see ourselves. We are survivors. I say that we instead reserve the word victim for those who are actually victims, those who have died.