So what am I doing? With all this writing, all this anger and frustration and grief and shame and exhaustion?
I have these moments where I feel like I’m being ridiculous, making a huge deal out of nothing, blowing things out of proportion.
There’s a line in More Than Two (I’m still reading it, and planning on writing about it):
…if something is our fault, that means it is within our power to change the outcome.
In the book that thought comes from a place of power – it can be empowering to take ownership of a problem, to actively work towards the improvements and changes we want to see in our world.
In my career, taking that mindset is both empowering and a great move for me, in terms of pleasing my bosses. Nothing makes a boss happier than an employee who will take the time (after shit hit the fan and then was resolved) to sit down with other people, talk over what happened, and discuss ways to make sure that future shit doesn’t hit the fan in the same. It takes a gentle touch, and sometimes some assistance from my boss (or someone else’s boss) if the problem was caused by multiple parties failing to do something that they firmly feel they shouldn’t have to do. I have a gentle touch; I’ll point out the positives to changing a process, compliment the person for previous good things they’ve done, and potentially volunteer to make changes to what I’m doing, as long as they’re appropriate and aren’t putting too much of someone else’s responsibility on my shoulders. And I always take full responsibility for the things that I screwed up. I apologize. I acknowledge that I did something poorly. I express a sincere desire to do things better, so that we have less problems. I want to Own My Shit.
But what if a problem really isn’t my fault? What happens when you watch terrible things happen to people you love? Things outside your control – they’re not your fault, you can’t change the outcome. You can only watch and bleed and be paralyzed. Offer to help. Beg to help.
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me that his girlfriend was raped by a friend. A friend of hers. A friend of his. A friend of our entire friend group. When he finished telling me, I told him that I was so sorry. That sounded awful. How was his girlfriend? How was he? Did he want to talk about the things that they were doing to recover? What could I do for him?
He started crying. And then he thanked me for being the first person that either of them told who didn’t start telling him/her what she could have done differently so that it didn’t happen.
That sounds like victim blaming, doesn’t it?
We have good friends. They are typically victim advocates, not victim blamers. I had a different thought about what might be going on in their heads when they said those careless, corrosive words (though I still was upset and wished I knew who’d said what, because I wanted to have a serious talk with them about what was said and why).
Let’s take a moment to think about what these words mean.
Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them.
Those words appear to be directed at the people around the victim – people external to the victim are holding him/her/hir responsible for being a victim. I have watched victim blaming at work. I’m not excusing any person who says to a victim of a crime “If you’d worn a longer skirt/stayed out of that part of town/not protested/been respectful/done things better this wouldn’t have happened to you”.
I have also accidentally participated in victim blaming. I’ve visualized myself in the victim’s situation and said to myself “If I were in that situation, I would do this thing differently, and then I wouldn’t be victimized”.
See how I try to control my own victimization?
If something is my fault, that means it is within my power to change the outcome.
If I take self-defense lessons, pay more attention, don’t accept open drinks from strangers, don’t trust people who haven’t repeatedly proven themselves trustworthy, don’t open up to the wrong person, act more compassionately, try to understand harder, then it is within my power to change the outcome. I will change it into something better. I can do it; it’s my fault, so I can fix it.
If I’m being ridiculous, making a huge deal out of nothing, and blowing things out of proportion, then I have the power to change the outcome. I’ll just care in a different way, reframe it, work harder at understanding – and everything will be OK. Somehow.
Is it abuse-by-proxy? If I take Jon’s abuse, and find a way to make it mine, and then think about it in a different way, can I make it OK for all of us? Can I bear it for him? Can I transform it into something that nobody has to bear, because it’ll actually be reframed into something that’s OK? Can I think us all out of this situation?