There is a great delight in watching a two- or three-year old stubbornly insist on buttoning his own shirt. It might be crooked, but he did it. Or insisting on tying his own shoe laces – whatever the outcome. Similarly, I remember a student once saying to me about some advice she’d been given by her well-meaning adviser: ” I might be wrong. But I’d rather take responsibility for making my own mistakes than to let her tell me what mistakes to make.”
After my post yesterday, it occurred to me that victimhood and smoldering anger are quite similar. Because they both rob the person of the belief that metaphorically they can “tie their own shoe laces.” They both place the total blame on what has happened to them on someone else, and in the process convince themselves that they are powerless. Certainly, for better and worse, what happens to us is in part a result of what others do. But victimhood and long-term anger give away that critical self-determination that is evident in that two-year old with the crookedly buttoned shirt or knotted shoe lace.
I have long thought that anger is one of the most destructive emotions we humans generate. I’m not talking about that short burst of adrenalin-fired anger that gives us the wherewith-all to fight off danger, but the bitterness and anger that burns relentlessly for years, for a lifetime, even for generations. What seems to me so destructive about it is that, like victimhood, it too focuses the blame on what someone else did, rather than on what we might be able to do about it. That then degenerates into the pursuit of revenge, the determination to get even.
But ultimately what enduring anger and being a victim do is to rob the life of the angry person. They come believe they are powerless to do something positive, something life-enhancing, because some opportunity has been robbed from them by somebody else who had no right to take it.
It is true that they may truly have been hit, even are still being hit, by terrible misfortune caused by someone else. But that does not make one powerless. It does not mean there is nothing that I can do that is meaningful and which can give me joy or a sense of accomplishment. My misfortune might even give me insights into how to help others that I would not otherwise have had.
Anything I might say, however, cannot possibly compete with Maysoon Zayid. She may be handicapped because a doctor in New Jersey was drunk on the job when she was born. But a victim she is not