Entitled to victimhood

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“Everything is a temptation to be the victim.”

That was the quote in the lost notebook of Lars Larson. Or so we’ll call him. (His actual name was Scandinavian, and very distinct.)

The book itself was a marvelous array of record-keeping, a journal of field notes and insurance policy numbers, stocked with random thoughts and personal quotes. A friend and I found it on the street curb outside of a Mexican restaurant in West Seattle.

My friend called the number, and reported that the owner did eventually meet with him to (literally) gather his thoughts. But that quote stuck with me, and led me down the following rabbit hole of rambling, semi-coherent thoughts.

In this era of Reality TV, social media frenzies, selfies, easy online research, endless advertising, live streaming, immediate gratification, and so many other convenient shortcuts, it seems amazing to think that any of us fall victim to a “poor me” mentality. And yet, depression is the Bubonic Plague of the 21st Century here in the United States. It’s practically cancer.

Not to get overly personal here (and thus, blatantly biased), but this is one of the few topics I’m actually qualified to write about in any real depth. Depression has been my shadow, and I’ve been pretty damn dedicated to making sure it sticks around.

“What?” you might say. You might even shake your head in disapproval, thinking of your own situation — or of a loved one’s struggle — and saying something sensitive, like, “Depression isn’t a choice.”

I agree. It’s not a choice, just like having abnormally low blood pressure or low testosterone or estrogen or cholesterol isn’t a choice. However, it’s easily impacted, exacerbated and maintained by a series of choices, and it’s not a condition where one stumbles into a real “Danger Zone” without triggers and red flags.

One huge precursor to depression is a regular reiteration of Victimhood, whether rightly perceived or falsely imagined. And it’s worth noting that today’s generation has the victim stance down to an art.

In this Rorschach Test do you see two men fighting over a piece of clothing at Wal-Mart on Black Friday? (Wiki Commons)
In this Rorschach Test do you see two men fighting over a piece of clothing at Wal-Mart on Black Friday? (Wiki Commons)

By this, I don’t mean that we are all sad saps. We’re not. In fact, we have more entrepreneurs, more college graduates, and more generally hopeful and optimistic people than any previous generation. That’s for certain. Those resting in the age range of 20-30 are some of the most Disney-fied, hypervigilant, “energizer bunny,” Type A individuals you will ever meet. What we lack is the ability to notice and acknowledge differences without being extremely uncomfortable, secretly judgmental, or entirely calloused in our natural human tendency to analyze and compare our situations with the next homo sapien.

To say “the grass is greener on the other side” would be an understatement for many, and an unofficial motto for a good percentage as well.

Comedians are no longer afraid that their jokes will offend the old and “stuffy” audience members, but the young, educated and oh-so-politically-correct generation of hyper-intolerant, easily victimized attendees. Strangely, at the heart of both the “easily offended” crowd and those truly immersed in a victim mentality lies the same core: Insecurity. We are afraid to be ourselves, and we think about ourselves more than ever these days, because we have that luxury — and several online platforms with which to exercise it.

If one buys into Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and many other basic tenants of psychology and human development, it stands to reason that once a person’s basic needs are met their mind reaches for loftier goals. Self-actualization is painted as a beautiful thing, and yet the definition seems to be changing rapidly in this whirlwind of status updates and pretentious euphemisms.

My generation is, for the most part, desperate for two things: attention and respect. Of course, attention is easy enough to get if you don’t mind sacrificing respect, and respect is easy to maintain if you’re responsible but avoid taking risks.

I believe this conflict has led us to an impasse. In an attempt to get attention and keep respect, and do so without much time and effort, it’s become almost commonplace to play the victim card or paint other people as being less respectable than you. Essentially, that’s how we have woven the blanket of political correctness. Plus, it’s easier than turning on the heat.

The problem is that it’s exhausting, self-serving, directionless and destructive to spend your days searching for micro-aggressions and prejudice to weave into some psychologically-affirming tapestry. And it takes away from the credibility of those who really have cause to feel slighted by genuine acts of bigotry, chauvinism and classism. There’s a difference between noticing the wrongs in this world and fixing them. Constant diagnosis for the sake of diagnosis is futile.

Behind the temptation to be the victim is a willingness to stop pushing for tangible improvement, in ourselves and others. It may seem like the respectable path, but it’s about as effective as joining a humanitarian Facebook group to solve world hunger. The only thing you’ll end up doing is pushing people’s buttons.

So what’s the “point it out and fix it” kid of today supposed to do with all this? Well, if there’s anything to be done, it’s to start actually living.

Here are some tips that have helped me with that endeavor:

(1) Keep yourself stupendously busy. It’s amazing how difficult it is to be pissed off or depressed when you are fully immersed in an activity. Simply having too much on your schedule isn’t necessary the key to happiness, but a little bit of distraction can be a great thing. Too much free time is a recipe for woeful daydreaming-gone-wrong.

(2) Make a “Gratitude List.” There are so many things going right, and reflecting on those generally lifts you out of the gloomy nitpicker’s dimension. Try to be specific. For instance, I added the fact that my auto payment interest rate recently lowered $30 (a fact which I’ll surely exploit the next time I see a Del Taco drive-thru).

(3) Look at what you have on a global scale. According to the newest State of Food Insecurity In the World data, nearly 800 million people in the world lack proper nutrition on a daily basis, and many places in the world still discourage women from getting an education or a career — leaving half of the population more vulnerable to poverty, destitution and abuse.

The amygdalae are located in the brain, as represented by the red spots. (Wiki Commons)
The amygdalae are located in the brain, as represented by the red spots. (Wiki Commons)

(4) Try to look at problems realistically. Yes, there is prejudice in this world: One only needs to look at the incarceration rates of minorities to see that we do NOT live in a post-racial society. Yes, there is injustice and it can put you at a disadvantage: Neurological studies have found that a consistently overactive amygdala, producing excess amounts of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, can affect someone’s abilities to executive functions like working memory and decision-making (That hardly seems fair for the likes of war veterans or foster children).

  • “Executive functions” are also known as cognitive control and supervisory attentional functions.
  • Amygdalae are located in the frontal lobes of the brain.

These and many other facts of life are actual reasons for concern, but they are not reasons to lose hope, play the “why me?” card, or accuse everyone of being insensitive when they don’t acknowledge such struggles. If anything, concrete problems represent opportunities to seek solutions.

If it’s something worth “liking” or “sharing,” chances are it’s something worth doing. So go ahead—Get out there and risk offending someone by being yourself, being grateful, being alive.

 (Photo above from the TV show Survivor, via YouTube)