How I Learned to Stop Being a Victim
Well, I have been good and angry this week, let me tell you. Livid, even. How about you? I know I’m not alone, but I honestly can’t tell if that makes me feel better or worse.
I’m doing my best to inform myself of what is happening while also trying not to lose myself in the despair. It feels like dancing on a very thin line, most days, but I know that hope is essential and much less fragile than it may seem.
And yet it seems unfathomable, in this day and age, that a country would so brazenly and meaninglessly invade another country and begin what could potentially begin a world war, with no regard for life, morality or public perception.
Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising, as I know there are myriad ongoing conflicts around the globe all the time. I am not intending to diminish or justify those conflicts, but there is something that feels different about Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Not that there’s really ever any good reason to justify war, but there’s literally no reason for this. It feels to me like Putin has unilaterally decided to reopen the Pandora’s box of World Wars that we all agreed was to be left alone for the sake of humanity and the future of our whole world.
So, whether or not I should be, I am astonished and heartbroken and furious. It feels like every time we have a chance to meet a global challenge — and we have had ample opportunities as of late — and move forward as a species towards a better world, there is someone hell-bent on shoving us backwards into darker ages.
I read this week that one of Russia’s supporters saying that Putin had no choice but to invade Ukraine. That he was backed into a corner and had only one option.
Um, actually? There were and remain literally an infinite number of choices and options available, none the least of which is, um — let me see — not invading a country and beginning a war, for starters, or just stopping it at any given moment. Like, how about right now?
A funny thing happens when we say we have no choice: we tend to believe it. And it’s almost always not true.
We very nearly always have a choice. What’s perhaps more accurate is to say that we don’t like any of the options from which we must choose.
But that we don’t have a choice at all? Nope. Sorry, but that just ain’t the truth. A person (probably not a very nice one) could hold a loaded gun to a person’s head and the hostage still has a choice, albeit a pretty awful and terrifying one. It’s a horrible example, for which I apologize, but if someone in that extreme of a situation has choice, then most of us do too, most of the time.
Not liking any of our options is not the same as having no choice. These are very, very different predicaments, actually.
However, when we tell ourselves that we have no choice, or had no choice as a way of justifying our actions, we let ourselves off the hook. The problem is we are inadvertently hanging ourselves right back up on a new, even-less-empowering hook, in which we are not the ones with power or sovereignty over our thoughts, decisions and actions.
What’s worse, when we get into the habit of telling — and believing — that we have no options, we are unconsciously paring away at our ability to see viable alternatives, which means we are literally destroying our creativity and imagination and obliterating possibility in our lives and in the world, all in one fell swoop.
Oof. That’s not what we want to be doing. Less possibility is literally the last thing we need right now.
If we feel like we have no choice in the world, what we don’t want or need is to make it even more true by taking away even more of the power and sovereignty we feel we’re missing.
If we feel like we don’t have enough options, then allowing a thought process that eliminates even the possibility of other potential courses of action is completely counterproductive.
Saying, “I have no choice,” is not true most of the time, plain and simple.
What may be true is that you don’t yet see other options, not that there simply aren’t any other options, period. It may be true that you don’t really like the options you can see, but that you would like to have other, more preferable options.
Saying “I have no choice” is a way of getting out of owning that we don’t really like our options, but that we, ourselves, are the ones making our choices. It’s a way of shirking the responsibility and ownership for our decisions and actions and pretending that we aren’t the ones accountable for what we say or do. How it went? Well, it wasn’t my fault: I had no choice. Like that makes it okay or better, especially when others suffer (e.g. in a war they didn’t start).
Saying we have no choice leaves us feeling like a victim, pushed around, without any freedom or agency to cause or create our own lives, even though most of the time, our decisions aren’t victim to anyone other than ourselves.
It’s like saying “I can’t” when we really mean “I won’t”. Maybe it seems easier to say we can’t do something than it is to admit that we’re simply a no to whatever’s on the table, and it’s easier to blame anyone else but take responsibility ourselves for our preferences, decisions and actions.
But our words have power, and when we use them inappropriately, we turn that power against ourselves. Pretend you’re a victim and you will be. You’ll be in a prison of your own making, without choice or agency, not because you don’t have any power, but because you can’t see it. And it’s hard to break free from something you can’t see.
If we stop saying we have no choice when we in fact do, we can become a lot more articulate in speaking to what is really so.
Putting our thoughts and our words into alignment creates integrity in the world we create with our speaking. It’s much easier to act in alignment with our thoughts and words if they’re actually accurate.
It’s much easier to see and own our power and our options when we stop throwing them away.