Victimhood or Agency?

By Butch Swank

Agency. You’d be right to think I am talking about insurance again, but I am not. I am talking about the idea of agency. Merriam-Webster defines agency as the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power. Ok, so you’re thinking what in the heck is Butch talking about? These days we see the news, read the articles, scroll on our phones, and hear on the radio how things do nothing but go from bad to worse. We see strife and increasing chaos and rarely if ever, see something positive. Most of us have heard the old news saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” This was initially a cynical but accurate observation that bad news generates more interest than good news. If you are in the business of selling news, then given a long enough timeline, it only stands to reason that you will eventually almost exclusively focus on the negative because that is positive to your bottom line. Oh, the irony! The downside here is that enough sustained bad news leaves everyone feeling like dark clouds are everywhere despite your own eyes seeing mostly blue skies.

I go back to the word agency because I am beginning to believe a lot of us have abandoned it. Many people instead have adopted a victimhood mentality. What is that you ask? In short, it’s a mindset where regardless of the situation, people choose to feel powerless and hopeless. What’s even worse is they seemingly compete with one another to demonstrate who is the biggest victim. I imagine this mindset is at least temporarily soothing because it removes all the responsibility for your own actions. To complicate things, I believe it’s important here that we never lose sight of the fact that there are true victims in this world who have seen and suffered beyond comprehension. The people adopting this popular victimhood mentality, while surfing on their iPhones in air-conditioned rooms with a roof over their head and plenty to eat and whose only real tragedy is, in the grand scheme of things, something trivial, do such a disservice to the survivors of true horror and abuse. A line from Bob Marley comes to mind: Every man thinks his burden is the heaviest. That line makes me stop and think. It forces me to stop being self-centered. I don’t mean self-centered like the selfish jerk variety– I mean that we tend to only see things from our own perspective. That line makes you consider the world from another’s eyes which helps foster real empathy for others. Victimhood mentality denies you the ability to foster empathy. In this world, everything is being DONE to you. Helping or considering others is impossible because you are powerless. In short, you have no AGENCY.

I utterly reject that mindset. I cannot think of worse a mental prison to put yourself in. I myself chose to believe I am the master of my destiny. I read a line a while ago that stayed with me: No one is coming to help you, and no one cares about your problems. I initially thought that sounds like the most negative mindset ever. But, if you ponder it for a while, I argue it’s one of the most empowering mindsets possible. To me, what it says is that you alone control your destiny. You are one hundred percent responsible for your actions. If you don’t like the way things are, then get off your butt and go fix them! How can that not be considered freeing? Of course, random garbage is going to happen to you, and you have zero control over that. But again, and not surprisingly, I have another quote that applies to that situation from Martha Washington: “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” We all have bumps in the road to contend with but, if you have the right mindset, that should never stop you from believing despite the temporary bumps in the road, you still have all the power to make your life better.

In the 1980s, we Americans were unified against the Russians. We had a common enemy and faced a very real threat those days. Now we find ourselves, for the moment, as the sole global superpower but we are fiercely against one another. How did this happen? I believe a large part of it is our mindset. In the 80s we understood, that despite our differences, we Americans were all on the same team. These days, we have very real enemies that revel in our growing hatred for each other. We are blinded by this hate and while we’re distracted, real forces are aligning against us. It is critical we open our eyes and begin to see each other as countrymen again and not enemies. A lot of times solving problems means figuring out where to start the work. I believe our work must begin with our collective mindset. Previous generations fought so hard and sacrificed so much for us. They overcame so many obstacles and their unending work created the greatest country ever to grace God’s green Earth. I want us to toughen up. I want us to be more compassionate and understanding. I want us to appreciate and celebrate our differences because that is the basis for our strength. The bottom line is no one else is coming to help America and no other country cares about our problems. It’s up to us, and us alone, to make things better. So I say, let’s get our sleeves rolled up, and get to work!

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