I remember that one day, about 12 years ago, I was walking down a street to go handle some tasks. I was in a reflective state of mind, and suddenly the following thought came to me: ‘The most dangerous person in this world is the person who believes s/he is a victim. S/he is so focused on the harm being done to her/him, that s/he will not be able to perceive the harm that s/he is causing.’
I’d felt weak, and weaker than others, throughout life. I saw myself as fighting and working to overcome this. Where possible I tried to do so through creating external changes, and where I couldn’t, I worked to increase my internal flexibility, acceptance, and resilience. But there was an identity of victimhood associated with that feeling of weakness; there was a sense of working to overcome obstacles that I’d been born with, or that I had acquired without my conscious choice.
If you want to be a person who is not abusing and harming others, it is important that you not overly identify as a victim, and that you own and recognize the power that you already do have. (Ethics, at root, is the intentional governance of power). That was an important insight for me. It occurred to me that many of the harms that I had done (and still do) to others, were done without my intention or awareness; and that that does not lessen their causal impact one bit. Identifying as a victim increases the chances that you’ll cause even more harm without realizing it.
Somehow this comes back to me today. I work to upgrade my perceptual software so that no matter my circumstances, I do not accept this primitive framework of victim vs. oppressor, loser vs. winner. I aspire to be larger-minded than such simplistic, dichotomous views. I want grain, nuance, detail.
Egoic orientation itself is a necessary convention, but one to ultimately outgrow. To use ‘me vs. not-me’ as the overarching framework for contextualizing phenomena (as we all do) is as ludicrous as dividing up the world and deciding that all people live in either ‘Brooklyn’ or ‘the non-Brooklyn’. Silly. But, oh so human a thing to do.
The fact that I experienced a painful limitation, and through healing, fortune, and effort am now able to work through that limitation, does not mean that anyone necessarily owes me anything. Others are going through their own processes of growth, suffering, and learning.
Neither nature nor people ‘owe me’ care and compassion. On the other hand, it is wise to offer care because it leads to a better outcome for everyone. It’s not owed, but it is warranted. For me and from me.