I was thinking about writing a post on "white privilege." Or maybe it was going to be on "racism" (as newly defined). But it might have to do with "cultural appropriation," or perhaps "microaggressions" and "safe spaces." Whew. What, exactly, was the topic to be? Then I saw this article: "Competitive Victimhood" Among Racial Minorities Backfires, Study Finds. "Competitive Victimhood!" That really fits the bill! And please note that "racial minorities" are not the only competitors in the race for most victimized. Feminists, LGBT activists, Muslims and others are also competing.
First, a story.
My dad grew up in poverty. He was the oldest of the three children of his father's third marriage (my grandfather was twice widowered - is that a word? - before). My grandfather died when my dad was 6. My dad, his mother and his siblings split up and bounced around from relative to relative. My grandmother died when my dad was 16.
So what do you do when you are poor and orphaned in rural Virginia back in the 20's and 30's? Well, you could just accept your lot and take what work you could get on various farms for the rest of your life. And you could occasionally bemoan the fact that life had dealt you a bad hand. And many people did just that, especially during the Great Depression. But back in those days, Horatio Alger was still remembered in America, and many had a more "can do" attitude. My dad was one of them. He did, in fact, work as a farm laborer during the Depression (raising tobacco, primarily), taking any work he could get. He first put his younger brother through college, and then himself (graduating at the age of 33). My dad eventually earned a PhD, becoming a professor of Chemistry, chairman of the department, and, as I learned long after his death, earning the title of "legendary" at his school. My uncle became a Fortune 500 CEO.
The most famous line from Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech has become a bit of a cliché. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." We still quote this, but do we actually believe it? I still have this dream, but I am thinking that we are moving further from it rather than closer to it.
For some time we have denigrated the importance of good character. Perhaps the poo-pooing of good character was seriously promoted publically after President Clinton's shenanigans in the Oval Office. But it began long before. How many times have you heard someone say (or write) that their ill behavior is "just the way I am?" It used to be that striving for good character - that is, changing our behavior into better behavior - was considered a laudable objective. Now striving for good character is not being "authentic," or not being "true" to ourselves.
Poor character is also excused on the basis of victimhood. There was a time when genuine victimhood inspired those of good character to strive to achieve, to prove that in spite of everything, one could overcome any disadvantages they might have. Many did and some still do. For many others, victimhood (real, perceived, or deliberately made-up) is now used as an excuse for poor character. That is, to accept no personal responsibility, to blame others for all one's failings (and even demand recompense), to treat others poorly, to run away from anything that can be taken as criticism, .... The list is long.
And what constitutes good character? I take a biblical view (see my blog post on The Truth Will Set You Free). But In a nutshell, the Boy Scout Law will do: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. For good measure, toss in accepts personal responsibility, works hard and treats others with respect.
Can anyone who strives for good character - and even the best of us fall short - also consider themselves victims and promote themselves as such? I believe the answer to be no, even though many competing for victimhood honors are fully persuaded of their own sterling character and well as the horrible character of those they claim to be victimizing them.
Update (09/21/2017): In the Navigators Discipleship training class I am taking, I mentioned the whole business of people justifying their poor behavior with the "just the way I am" line. Someone else pointed out that many people justify by saying "God made me that way." Blaming God for our ill behavior?!? When we accept Christ, we become new creations and we are not what we were before. With God's help we change. Blaming God simply means we have no desire to become a new creation. I have to question the bona fides of any "Christian" who justifies their bad or sinful behavior on God "making me that way." God gives us the means to deal with sin (including bad behavior).
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Cor 10:13 (ESV)
Of course we are still going to sin. We are sinners, after all. "God made me that way" is no justification for sin. But -
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
Anyone who is truly unhappy with the way they are should consider turning their lives over to Christ. With God, all things are possible and with God's help, one can turn their life around.
Click on the image for a good article on the subject.