**I should have posted this link initially, but here it is – The forgiveness project – teaching an alternative to hate.**
I was a victim, became a survivor, then slowly, painfully, I became just a person.
At last my future was no longer already written by the pen of my past; no longer an inevitable consequence of my history; no longer one of ‘overcoming’ and therefore still being defined by my trauma.
Not only was this a slow and painful journey for me, it was painful for a lot of people.
One of the things I used to do was something I realise now is quite common, extreme in some but often present in small ways in all of us.
By way of a silly example, let’s say someone stole my bicycle. I am angry, and unable to get to school, so I look around and see another bike just sitting outside a shop. So I take it.
When the owner of the bike I stole complains, I say, “but I was only…”.
I was a victim of theft, I was only evening the score, I was angry because…, I was late because…, I was justified because… I was the victim, not the other guy.
If I was mad at my bike being stolen and therefore I stole a car, I would be escalating the harm. If I was mad about my bike and so stole a can of coke, I am at least scaling things down. But the fact remains that I am using my victim status to justify passing on the harm.
To more personal examples. As a victim of abuse I grew up telling myself that my actions were a response to the pain in my heart. I couldn’t be doing anything wrong, could I, I was just in pain?
So while I took drugs and slept around it never occurred to me that I might be breaking my relatives hearts. In fairness my mother hasn’t got a heart, which is part of why I didn’t find mine for so long, but others were watching me kill myself slowly and they were hurting.
I didn’t understand this in part because my parents failure to show love meant I didn’t really learn what it meant to love. Not only was I a narcissistic teenager, my head firmly up my own ‘nobody understands me’ anus, but I’d been battered about by those who should have taught me kinship and care. As a kid I didn’t even grasp the concept that other people could care enough to be hurt by my suffering.
Other people meant little. I was a piece of crap so they couldn’t have strong feelings for me. If I died they wouldn’t miss me much – a view supported by the fact that if they died I didn’t feel like I’d care much. As for sex; if they slept with me they had ‘read the contract’. If they got clingy it was because they were stupid enough not to see the signs. It didn’t occur to me here that I could have empty sex mainly because my heart was dead – and the reason these girls became attached is because they were normal, functioning, caring people.
Along with not being able to love, or understand love, I was also unable to figure other people as loving me, or really even grasp what love between other people was all about.
As well as love, there was respect. I trashed building sites, punched in people’s windows, drank till I passed out in the street, smashed my possessions and generally had no respect for myself or anything I owned – and not much for other people’s stuff either.
The world had hurt me, treated me like crap, and I deserved my piece of the good shit, even if I had to take it by force. I took drugs in part because it was a big ‘fuck you’ to my mother, to the law and to the world. I drank myself almost to death because it was a ‘fuck you’ to myself. I was damned if I was going to succeed in life and thereby give my mother the chance to say “see, I can’t have brought you up so bad.”
I don’t want to appear misogynist, and should point out that my step-father was the main cause of all my ills but had left and was later in prison, and my father was absent from the start. I don’t only blame my mother, it’s just that there was by this time no-one else left to shout at.
Anyway. My point is this.
People who have been hurt have every right to find recompense, to be recognised as mistreated or harmed in whatever way. What they must also do is ensure they respond well to this harm.
If we choose to be we are all victims:
- of the governments unfair policies
- of youth crime
- of inequality, sexism, racism etc.
- of our neighbours loud music
- of the dog-poop in the park
…of pretty much anything that we didn’t want and feel powerless to address.
We cannot, in some ways, avoid being a ‘victim’, in that we cannot control everything. If a train is cancelled due to snow, we are a victim of the weather!
What we do have is control over how we respond to being a victim.
The first thing to do is recognise that 99% of the time it isn’t personal. The snow doesn’t know us! The bike thief has never met us, the government doesn’t know us, the dog didn’t poop specially for us to step in.
The second thing is that while we feel like victims, we give power away. We remain slaves to the hurt that was done to us, and it bends who we are. If instead we accept that harm is something that happens and we’ll manage it, get through it, or even do something to stop it in future, then we don’t need to be angry or aggrieved. If we are then shaped by it, we are shaped into stronger, wiser people.
This post was originally about a person, prompted by a dear friend who is destroying themselves. It is about how as individuals we can take the harm done to us and wear that harm as an excuse to harm others. We can cut-off people who love us because they want us to stop being victims, and then surround ourselves with arseholes who will let us destroy ourselves. We can hurt people who try to care for us and instead pour our energy into vile people who only want us for what they can get. We do all these things to hurt others and ourselves, and tell ourselves that it’s okay, we’re not hurting anyone, it’s not our fault, we’re just responding to being hurt.
Yet in light of Newtown this is now also a post about people in the larger sense. Lanza probably believed himself a victim, of what we likely will never know. What is clear is that he escalated the harm unimaginably, and then set it upon others.
We too can respond to tragedy by feeling like victims, with anger or hate or despair. We can find others to hurt to try and make ourselves feel better, we can react in haste with ill-thought action, with acts of wild rage or reciprocal harm.
Or we can respond rightly, compassionately and offer a genuine respect to the dead. We can hold this tragedy like a landmark to say, “this must not happen again.” To do this requires right action, not hysterical responses but considered ones. If a horrific loss of life is to have any meaning it must be responded to in a way which makes of it a turning point, a place in time where people will be able to recognise a crucial change for the better.
We must respond not with ugly hatred but with beautiful purpose. While we can see the horror of one man’s actions, we see also the deep love and compassion of millions of people. In a world so jaded, where we sometimes ask ourselves if there is any humanity left, we see here in the response to this awful event so much love, so much care, so many people too beautiful to even be able to understand how such a thing could happen. We must not forget to see this majestic display of global kindness – it is so much bigger, so much brighter than one mans actions.
No energy should be wasted hating the man who caused the harm. Any focus upon them is a use of energy which must be put elsewhere.
Instead, all our energy, all our action, all our care must be spent upon making this a turning point. It must become a landmark, and we must do all we can to ensure it never happens again.
Things do not happen for a reason, they only happen – it is then up to us to give them a reason. If we don’t, then the tragedy becomes a thousand times greater.