“I want my dining out,” is a very real quotation that could be heard emanating in whiny, wailing prose from a very adult person.
Let’s be honest, we all have our share of wants, desires and selfish thoughts. COVID-19 has left many of us feeling anxious, punchy, a little down. It’s left our social calendars empty and our social desires unfulfilled.
In a way, our instinct to seek revenge has been triggered. However, we can’t take revenge on a virus. We have a thirst to satisfy our need for satisfaction, but as the Rolling Stones song goes, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
Since we can’t intimidate, threaten, fight or yell at a virus, we take our aggressions out on the next available target: other people. And what do we do when we pick a target for our aggression? We usually pick what we perceive to be the easiest target, because at some raw level of psychology, we want to win. We even want to win at being the most competitive victim.
A piece by Dr. David J. Ley examined victimhood in 2014. Entitled “The Culture of Victimhood,” the piece in “Psychology Today,” explores the unintended swing of the pendulum that occurred when we as a society stopped viewing victims of trauma as targets for bullying, shaming and blaming. We made tremendous progress, and then we overshot the middle ground.
“Unfortunately, in a swing to the opposite side, victimhood has now become a protected class in our society, a trend fed by well-intended, but potentially harmful therapists, activists and daytime talk shows,” Dr. Ley writes.
When we attach some benefits to victimhood, we hear more from victims. It’s excellent that we hear from the real victims, but harmful when victimhood is fabricated or grossly exaggerated.
I think this instinct in all of us is stirred by the constant imagery of war used in describing the case of Human Beings vs. COVID-19, et. al. It’s not just COVID-19, it’s a common practice in any discussion of disease. It’s quite often that an obituary will read something along the lines of, “Rance Burger died after a courageous and lengthy battle with Disease-X” instead of simply stating “Rance Burger died of complications from Disease-X.” Politicians, medical professionals, funeral directors, friends and loved ones all want to picture the disease-stricken person as a fighter, a noble warrior.
It’s one thing to fight against a disease and take steps to protect yourself, but idly threatening a grocery worker who asks that you cover your nose and mouth, or launch into a social media crusade against a restaurant because you won’t be allowed to sit at the bar is another matter.
“The customer is always right,” has been cranked to the point where if the customer doesn’t get their way, they transform into a completely innocent victim, a sufferer of outrageous misfortune and tyranny, a David standing up against a Goliath of hand sanitization stations and personal protective equipment.
There is a difference between liberty and doing whatever the heck you want, consequences to others be damned. Those 6-foot dividing markers on the floor of the checkout lane of the grocery store are not the tools of oppressive socialist dictators. They’re there to help everyone be a little bit more considerate of the other human beings in the store.
Let me also be clear, I don’t want to return to the honor-shame cultures of the American West, old world Europe or radical pockets of the Middle East, where victimhood is associated with extremely low moral status. I would never advocate for “death before dishonor” or settling arguments on Facebook with blood. I’m merely advocating for a reduction in radical behaviors and a move toward middle ground.
“Our reactions to cries of victimization must be tempered with a belief in supporting their resiliency. To continue with the way we are idealizing and rewarding victimhood, creates more and more incentive for people to desire to be seen as victims,” Ley writes.
We’ve got to be resilient as this new era of COVID-19 and its effects continues. Resiliency is best achieved through working together, through cooperating rather than bullying, shaming or victimization. It shouldn’t be a contest to see who got hit the hardest, but a question of who is going to be there to pick up the fallen person so that they can keep going.
Empathy will be what pulls us from this trial, not victimhood.