Thursday, April 11, 2019

Reflections on the victim archetype

“At seven or eight, I wanted to be an anthropologist; both mother and father told me that was not a profession for a woman!”
“At fifteen, I wanted to be an engineer; both mother and father told me that was not a profession for a woman!”
“When I decided to be a dentist, I told no one, and became one!”
Those were the words of an immigrant dentist, yesterday, while I was sitting in her patient chair.

This story was followed by others, especially endemic to Canada, about a young, vigorous young man from Northern Ontario, Sudbury, to be specific, who, upon telling his parents he wanted to be a medical doctor, heard these words from his mother: “You cannot do that; we are not that kind of people or family!”
Another brief sketch emerged in the same conversation.

“I once dated a young woman then a nursing student, the daughter of a radiologist. When she offered that she wanted to ‘get serious’ about the relationship, after much deliberation, I rejected her invitation believing that I was not of that social class, and would not be able to keep up!”

Inferiority, as enmeshment in the victim archetype, slithers along the baseboards of our kitchens, lurks under the beds of our children, slides unobtrusively into the most innocuous conversations about the most important topics in our personal and our public lives. It wears a very seductive and deeply engrained historical mask, false humility, false modesty.

And in Canada, it also flags another of our least healthy traits: we will do anything to avoid being American. If an American (and the country by inference) is perceived, stereotypically, as a braggard, a self-promoter, a determined hero, a military behemoth, a corporate elephant, a loud-mouthed bully, then, living just north of that perceived “monster,” Canada has veered widely to the other side of the road, risking the ditch on the other side.

Victims inherently blame others for their fate, thereby avoiding even a modicum of responsibility. Victims seek out and lance, undermine, attack, defame, and pull down those who appear to succeed in climbing their own ‘mountain’ of achievement in whatever arena. Victims are also inextricably and dangerously enmeshed in the historic reasons for their victimhood, the attitudes and behaviour of their ancestors, their parents, teachers, bosses, partners and even peers.

Historically, in Canada, the “west” blames the “east” establishment for their alienation. Previously in Quebec, francophones blamed anglophones for their inferior status in the governance of the country. Provinces, traditionally and predictably, blame the federal government (as Ford-Morneau demonstrate again), rural citizens blame urban dwellers (now the vast majority) for their lack of government services. Many in therapy adopt the focus on “family of origin” issues for their own complexities and deficiencies.

Yet, if and when a primary national archetype is ‘victim’ whether of the barren wilderness, of the climate, of the hardships of removing the impeding rocks from a potential hay field, of the lack of human services because of distance and transportation facilities, it is only natural that individuals will gravitate to the ‘victim’ myth as a metaphor that, like the kaleidoscope’s turn, brings the coloured disks into clear focus. Interesting and intimate dialogue frequently turns to “past life” incidents, statements, judgements, betrayals, abandonments, divorces, deaths, accidents, bankruptcies, heavily tilting the scales of our unique perceived victimhood’s constellation of influences. At the same time, especially noticeable in Canada, (as compared with the U.S.) we discreetly and deliberately minimize/avoid/deny/disavow/brush off any references to significant accomplishments, unless and until the party conversations reach a turning point where bragging competitively becomes a kind of game.

Political promises, in so many cases, ring hollow, given our deeply ingrained distrust of such dream-like visions, on top of our subconscious (unconscious?) enmeshment in our own condition (mostly characterized by our “less than”) when silently and privately compared to the status of those seeking political office. “Ordinary” backgrounds, of course, continue to be resurrected as the “life story” of any aspiring political candidate, as his/her way of identifying with the ordinary citizen voter.

Not so insignificantly, nor imperceptibly lurking under, inside and through the fibres of this carpet of “the victim” is the manner in which Canadians “wear” their wealth. Mostly secretly, and yet very consciously defining the ‘upper class’ in each and every organization, including every political party, and every neighbourhood, classroom, church, and even social service agency/club, those with wealth, the status of office, and especially the status of “legacy” (having been around for a long time), there is a top layer of “elite”….often patronizing others, perhaps even unconsciously, given how ingrained its permanence and dependability and usefulness this status has proven throughout their lives.

On guard, suspicious, distrusting, sceptical, even fractious and rebellious, the lower classes continue to grope through the fog of classism, racism, ageism, sexism and the permanent, if imperceptible, reredos that segregates the upper class from the rest of the world. The tensions that this divide generate provide the marketing gurus with the datapoints they need to frame their sales pitch to their respective niche markets. Price points, hired shill-actors, packaging, music, camera angles, lighting and sound effects, including even the choice of animated cartoon or animal character are all subject to the manipulation of the mind-manipulators who have climbed to the top of the advertising/marketing/messaging corporate ladder.

There may be no intentionality or design among many elites to defame those below. And there is, unfortunately, another kind of reverse snobbery among the lower class that smears contempt on the public faces of the upper classes. There is also, unfortunately, a kind of symbiosis in this class divide: the rich often depict the poor as worthless, lazy, undisciplined, drunks, drug-addicts, homeless. We do not, in Canada, use the term “caste” to designate the upper class; however, its imprint can be found in every restaurant, every hotel, every classroom, every church sanctuary, within social and political and corporate organizations.

How we become conscious of the role the “victim” archetype in our lives merits a national conversation, a serious look at the language we use in our public discourse, the language used by our teachers and principals, our parents and athletic coaches. Martin Luther King used to dream that all people would be judged by the quality of their character, not the color of their skin. Clearly a noble aspiration!

And yet, the quality of one’s character is not mirrored by the medals of their winnings, the size of their investment accounts, the brand of vehicle they drive, the corner office (title) they occupy (wear), nor the length of their service, just as it indisputably is not a function of the colour of their skin or their ethnicity, or their religion (in spite of the blatant claims of many faith communities to be the “right” religion!)

How many other conversations are occurring right now that imitate the conversation in the dentist’s office? How many reputed “leaders” role models, mentors, coaches, parents, teachers, and religious practitioners are currently engaged in conversations that betray their implicit bias, their implicit imposition of their victim/bully on their colleagues? At the same time, how many of those who are wearing the “charges” of impropriety, injustice, inequality, abuse of power, the twisting of the facts, the distortion of reality to suit their personal agenda are even open to giving serious consideration to reflect on their part in the circumstance for which their opponents are judging them?

Margaret Atwood wrote eloquently about the “dialogue of the deaf” when referring to the former sovereignty debates between Quebec and Canada in the not so distant past. Are we witnessing a different variant of that theme, (dialogue of the deaf) between, among and around the relationship (?) tension, conflict, between factions, individuals, ideologies, interest groups, classes, men v.women, Liberal v.Conservative, Republican-Democratic, trump v. world?

Is the victim-blame game the best we can attain in our public and our private discourse? Have we deferred to a model of discourse linked to a mind-set that would/might be more appropriate among pre-teens? Are we doomed, (sentenced? hard-wired? programmed?) to repeat, and repeat the dialogue of the deaf between the bully and the victim?

Are those who defer from this model of reflection and discourse, relation-building and alienation to be considered “outliers” for being “different” or “outcasts” or iconoclasts or “too complex” and “too complicated”?

Falling into a trap that has already demonstrated its capacity to sabotage those of us who used it, as Canadians, as victims, as “not American,” surely is not an expression of our better angels.

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