A lot of people assume, “I don’t think like a victim. I’m rational, self-responsible and don’t think anyone owes me a living. Victim-think only afflicts those who feel entitled, or who are otherwise irrational.”
Not so. Victim-think is a psychological problem based on a set of wrong or contradictory ideas. Just because you have healthy ideas doesn’t mean you can’t succumb to it. What if you have contradictory ideas along with your healthy ones, ideas in the form of particular emotions?
An example: Let’s say you’re an honest person. You don’t seek to pull the wool over others’ eyes. You are honest for the right reasons — for yourself, because it’s rational, because it means adhering to reality, not because you learned honesty in “Sunday School” as a command, or wherever else. You don’t value honesty as an out-of-context rule (“I should do it, even though I don’t want to”), but as a way of living.
Not everyone is the same way, of course. Some people lie, and do so quite freely. Let’s say you notice a liar getting ahead. Maybe they even got hired for a job or an opportunity for which you were turned down.
“The liar won. But I got turned down. What kind of world is this? Poor me!”
You’re feeling like a victim here. But what are the errors in what you’re feeling?
You’re right that the person didn’t deserve the job or promotion. However, you’re overlooking a few things. For one thing, the person might be succeeding because he’s “good” at lying. Take a moment to think about what it takes to be “good” at lying. It means remaining aware of what you’ve told different people at different times; it means remaining aware of what’s true, but what’s also true (or untrue) according to whomever you told (or didn’t tell) whatever you told (or didn’t tell) them. Confused? Welcome to the mental world of a liar.
So the only way that lying person can get ahead is to cover up his lies and live a life of mental chaos. Of course, sooner or later alert people will eventually trip over the liar’s lies, if he doesn’t trip over one himself first. Plus, the liar won’t be nearly as competent in his job as he might have been. Saddling your mind with untruths and general “unreality” doesn’t help you excel.
Even if others never notice his lies, then the liar is counting on the weakness or honest ignorance (or perhaps naivete) of his superiors to get by. If he’s able to get away with this deceit, did you really miss out on such a great opportunity? Is it really such a great opportunity if offered by people who are taken in by, or perhaps do not even care about, this person’s deceit?
If you feel like a victim, you’ll feel this way: “I’m an honest person. But honesty doesn’t pay. I’m not going to become a liar. But the world sucks, and I kind of give up.” You feel this, or something like it.
Victim-think does you no good. If you’re striving to be a high-quality and efficacious person, you’re not doing this for others. You’re doing this for yourself. The purpose of moral or decent behavior is survival, self-interest and growth. You hope to find people with whom to trade (personally or in business) who appreciate and count on these virtues, and who exhibit these qualities themselves. Such virtues have probably never been dominant (they certainly are not today), but these qualities have never been completely absent, either.
The fact that there are fewer people like this in the world than you would like does not make you a victim. If anything, it makes them victims — of themselves. They’re the ones who have to go on being who they are. That’s their loss, much more than it could ever be yours.
People don’t owe you their virtue or their rationality, however you might define those things. You’re not entitled to live in a world where people go by your standards, even if your standards are arguably, provably the right ones. People have the option to choose their standards, including the option not to choose at all — and just default to whatever they feel like doing, in the moment. Not everyone lives their lives by rational or coherent principles.
Feeling like a victim over this fact impairs your serenity and your ability to benefit from your virtuous, healthy or rational personality traits.
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