A young woman is in session with her therapist. As the session progresses, the woman describes in grim-faced detail all the difficulties that have taken place in her life recently. She ends her tale with, “…and it’s all my fault.”
The therapist, looking concerned, replies, “Why do you say that?”
The young woman responds, “Well, if it’s not, then I’m doomed.”
Why would she say that? Isn’t that a weird form of victim blaming?
Not really. Let me explain.
Let’s say I travel a lot for work and the bulk of my budget is consumed in buying gas. I’m sure that other people spend lots of money for gas, too, so I decide that gas should cost the same amount anywhere you go. Before I start trying to spread the word, I realize that people who refine and sell gasoline are going to disagree with me. So, I decide to blame them.
I start out by coming up with a catchy name for my movement and another one for people who work to refine and sell gasoline. I tell people who drive for work that they are being victimized by these people. I select a price I think is reasonable and publish it in various media outlets, as well as producing merchandise that I can sell to fund my efforts. I suggest that truck drivers who transport gasoline and people who continue to buy gasoline at any price other than the one I’ve chosen are traitors to the cause. I demonstrate against gas stations and oil refineries to try and convince the people who own them to make the changes I want. I might even call a press conference so that I could publically shame people for selling gasoline at different prices around the world.
Sounds laudable, right? Whether or not it actually is, there’s a problem. For one thing, not everyone is going to agree with me. In the given scenario, it would be easy to assume that people who refine and sell gasoline would probably be working against me, but that would only be part of the equation. The rest of it would be taken up by people who don’t feel like they are victims of varying gas prices at all.
Unfortunately, after a year, the number of gasoline refiners and sellers around the world who have accepted my suggestions will actually be rather small, so I’m definitely still going to be spending a large amount of my money on buying gas or, in order to remain true to the ideals I’m espousing, it’s now going to be more difficult for me to get the gas I need to make my job work.
Bear in mind, I’m not attempting to point fingers at any person or group of people. This is just a scenario. Still, it’s an uncomfortably familiar scenario, isn’t it? It seems like everywhere you look there’s someone preaching that they are a victim of this or that group of “oppressors.” After all, it’s so easy to just sit back and say that my life is crappy because of someone else, isn’t it?
Let’s back up a bit and look at my scenario from a different angle. I’m still traveling a lot for work and the bulk of my budget is still being spent on gas. However, this time, I take responsibility for my situation myself.
I take a look at my budget and decide to cut out some of my more frivolous expenditures and scale back some of the ones I still need but could probably spend less on. Any time I drive to a new place, I make sure I already know which two gas stations will have the best prices available to me, as well as the most gas efficient routes to access them. I learn how to spend the least amount of money with the car I have and above all, I put aside a little money every month until I can afford to buy a more gas efficient car, such as a hybrid or even just a fully gas-powered car with better overall gas mileage.
This scenario doesn’t seem as great as the first one, right? The idealistic plans to change the world are completely missing. However, the difference between this scenario and the first one is that, in the second one, I can absolutely guarantee that 100% of the people I’m trying to change are going to agree with me about the changes I want to make.
It’s simple! There’s only one person on the face of this whole earth whose actions and choices I have any right or ability to control. That person is me. What’s more, when I know what I want to change and come up with a plan that I can make work, or even if I have to change my plan at some point, I don’t have to be concerned about what other people think because I’m only trying to change myself.
What does that have to do with the above story, though?
Well, if everyone else is responsible for how bad my life is, how much of it can I change? Answer: None. I can campaign until my lungs are burning and my arms and legs are sore, but if the changes I want aren’t up to me then nothing I say or do makes much difference, especially if no one agrees with me. So, if things in my life are bad and I bear no responsibility for it, then I’m doomed, because I can’t do anything to fix it.
If, on the other hand, my life is bad and I’m responsible for it, as uncomfortable as that thought is, at least I have a chance to change things because I’m in charge of my own life. I can conceivably change any and every aspect of it that I want to, even if all I’m allowed to change is how I think and feel about my situation.
What’s more, if I’m wanting to make some significant difference in the world around me, the most effective change I can make is in myself, with a 100% possible success rate. At best, I can only influence everyone else. I can never change them. Never. Even if the people in discussion are my own children, I don’t have the power or even the right to change them.
As the immortal Michael Jackson once sang, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
So, this is my plea to you. Understand, I’m not trying to change you. I know already that it’s not possible. I’m only making a suggestion and asking you to consider it.
If, up to now, you’ve considered yourself a victim of circumstances, take a good look at your life, then look again and see exactly how much of a victim you really are. Just remember, if you’re responsible for what’s wrong with your life, you can still make some changes to try and fix it. If you’re not responsible for what’s wrong with your life, then, no matter what you do, you’re doomed.