Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Victims and Power

I never had much use for modern feminism.  I know that bothers a lot of people, and I think its because they misunderstand what I mean by it.  Its not that I don't think that sexism exists, because I've seen all too often that it does (and in the professional world, its more prevalent in some fields than in others). It was impossible, however, for me to see the world in terms of a power struggle between men and women where, no matter the gains, women always needed special accommodations or considerations or concessions to be as successful or as independent as men, that somehow their traditional roles weren't powerful, or gave them less of a voice than their male counterparts.  I was raised in a world of strong, self-possessed, independent women (unless you define "independent" so narrowly and superficially as to only mean "mostly free of personal family responsibilities").  Some had professional careers, some didn't, and all of them were respected leaders in their homes and their communities--just as much, and often more so, than their male counterparts.  To see them as victims of anyone or anything, would've been a huge disservice to who they are and what they've accomplished.

Perhaps that's why one of my personal pet peeves has long been a victim mentality, whether at a personal or a societal level.  My mom used to tell me that she was always grateful that I made good decisions, because if I hadn't she was pretty sure there wouldn't be anything she could do about it.  I would decide what I was going to do--quietly--and then do it.  "The few times I had to discipline you when you were little," she once told me, "you'd just look at me like 'Who the heck do you think you are?'"  Knowing the people who were the most consistent influences and examples in my life growing up, I'm quite certain that, by both genetics and training, I came by it honestly.  But the flip side of that is that I hate telling other people what to do.  Heck, the first couple of years I was a parent, I sometimes forgot that was my job.  I want to be in control of my own life, but like the self-assured women who came before me, I am no insecure control freak---I have no desire for power or control over others or their actions. I am, and have always been, a people pleaser as well.  That independence did not come with much hardness, thankfully, and for whatever reason the Lord blessed me with a tremendous innate desire to do what's right (usually), so as I've grown up, I've learned to recognize righteous authority and direction, and happily submit to it (usually)--though it is often still a very conscious choice I must make.

I figured out very early--and saw dramatically illustrated in several individuals when I was a teenager--that if you took control of your self and your life and got things done, people would, by and large, leave you to it and not to try to control what you did.  And, in contrast, if you didn't take responsibility for your life, you would become powerless, to varying degrees, to other people, organizations, and/or substances that would happily do everything in their power to control your life for you.  It is deep in my nature to resist anyone else having much power over me, much less control what I do or how I feel.  So why, why, why, would I willing relinquish that power to someone else by choosing to cast myself as a victim in my own life?  I have no stomach for it.

One of lies that bothers me most is that responsibility constricts freedom, or happiness.  Personal responsibility--for your actions, reactions, emotions, decisions--is the only thing that can possibly lead to freedom or happiness.

Being a victim releases you from responsibility--it ("it" being whatever you're unhappy about) is all the other individual's/social group's/genetics' fault.  Nothing you can do about that, right?  This means that the "victim" doesn't have to do the sometimes uncomfortable or even painful self-examination and do the work that would be required for whatever is making them unhappy to change.  If you don't take responsibility for your life and your attitude, regardless of external circumstances, you hand the power for your position, your relationships, your self-esteem--your life--to someone else.  You are trapped.  And usually unhappy. And you have chosen to be trapped and unhappy.  Ultimately, shirking personal responsibility--to whatever degree--always leads to traps of one kind or another.

Of course, there are things in all of our lives that we can't change.  There are circumstances, conditions, and challenges that we can't undo or make disappear.  But we can control how we approach those things, and we can choose what we focus on.

More importantly, even though often times we are justifiably upset at things that others have done to us, or failed to do for us, we cannot change other individuals, and they are not in control of our lives. Anger at what was done to you, and some sort of hunt for revenge, or simply resigned powerlessness, often does far more damage than whatever the original offense might have.  Your soul is more ensnared by angry or painful focus on how you were cheated than by the actual reality of having been cheated.  That focus on getting even, or even "getting your due", poisons your heart, your vision, and your relationships.  That is why forgiveness and humble self-confidence are attributes of the strong: the weak focus on petty score-settling, and never move beyond point-scoring.

I refuse to let someone else control what I do, much less how I feel, think or believe.  That means that sometimes I ask a lot of myself, and sometimes in doing so I fail.  But facing that failure--having to look at myself honestly and acknowledging that I have fallen short and need to figure out how to fix it and do better--is exponentially preferable to being the victim in my own life story.   I deserve better than that.  My family deserves better than that.  The women who raised me weren't damsels in distress.  They were much more of the warrior queen variety, and I'd like some day to have lived worthy of that lineage and the sacrifices they made to teach me and give me my independence.

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