Posts Tagged hope

Can’t We All Just Reject Victimhood?

When I was ten, in my first day home from surgery to lengthen both of my Achilles tendons, I learned that I wasn’t going to be able to be a victim. I was trying to retrieve underwear from my top dresser drawer when I tumbled backward. Pain erupted from my ankles when I stepped back, and in desperation, I pulled the drawer back with me, emptying its contents on the floor.

I sat there stunned, trying to figure out how to fix the situation, when my dad came into the room. He looked at the mess, and before turning to leave, told me that I was going to need to figure it out myself and that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. I know it sounds harsh, but many of life’s lessons aren’t suited for the Hallmark Channel.

I thought about that scene this week, when watching and reading about the misguided destruction in response to a grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the unfortunate shooting of a robbery suspect. In Ferguson, Missouri and other points, people took to the streets to protest not so much the grand jury’s decision, but the injustice they perceived it to represent. They were goaded into this behavior by leaders who have made victimhood an industry and by media who sought to sensationalize a story and create a narrative which they know plays well these days – victimhood.

When you tell people, as the President of the United States did, that it’s acceptable to be frustrated and assume the role of a victim, it should come as no surprise that people act like frustrated victims. That’s a dangerous precedent, and it’s becoming more prevalent and more destructive to the American Dream.

Victims lose hope and feel shame. They are mistrusting and suspicious. They feel that they can’t escape a dismal fate, and when that false message is reinforced by leaders and many in the media, they lose all hope of empowerment.

The opposite of victimhood is empowerment – the ability to have an effect on your plight. You don’t have empowerment by throwing a brick through a convenience store window. That just feeds the narrative of the victim lashing out at his oppressor. You have empowerment when you hold yourself and those you influence to higher standards. Pointing fingers and casting blame aren’t acts of empowerment; self-realization and self-improvement are.

It all starts with honest self-assessment. We have to face who we are – both the positives and the negatives – and we have to assess our situation – do we deserve better and are we willing to do everything we can to make it better, regardless of what anyone else tells us is possible?

I sat on the edge of my bed and cried that Sunday morning. It wasn’t fair that I was cursed with a disease that made strangers stop and stare, that made me the last chosen for basketball games during PE, that made me suffer through excruciating medical procedures and physical therapy. It wasn’t fair that my own dad wasn’t going to help me.

It wasn’t fair, but it was my plight, and I faced a choice. I could be passive and negative, and accept whatever was given to me or I could approach the world with an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, but that I would give myself a chance, if I just tried.

Imagine if President Obama pushed that same attitude and spoke of personal responsibility and effort as much as he did of distributing a “fair share.” Imagine if Al Sharpton attacked fatherlessness with the same ferocity as he attacked voter identification legislation. Imagine if the media showed thriving inner-city schools as much as they showed burning buildings.

Imagine empowerment overtaking victimhood.

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Nothing Wrong with a Fat Pocketbook

Hillary Clinton recently went to great lengths to save herself from the embarrassment of being financially successful. Her problems started when, in an effort to appeal to the masses, she said that she was “dead broke” when she left the security of the White House. Apparently, poverty polls well.

At one time, I was on pretty shaky financial ground myself, owing much more than I had in assets and earning very little from my fledging business. It’s a story common to many entrepreneurs. You sacrifice and risk comfort, because you believe in your enterprise, but I don’t think that I was ever “dead broke.” I saw true poverty in Africa – people crammed into tiny tin shacks and scavenging along the roadside. That’s “dead broke,” and it’s a far cry from being a former First Lady who can command hundreds of thousands from a speech.

Senator Clinton’s missteps really don’t bother me, but her shying away from success does. Success should be celebrated, especially in a country that was the setting for Senator Clinton’s rise from the Chicago middle class to United States Secretary of State or President Clinton’s rise from a broken home to United States President.

Imagine if Senator Clinton had pointed out that success can be fleeting, but can be recaptured with concentrated effort, instead of trying to sell the idea that two very successful people were destitute. She could have inspired others whose financial success had ebbed. She could have given us hope.

Hope

Dr. Shane Lopez of the Gallup Organization wrote a thoroughly researched and critical book, Making Hope Happen, based on his research on hope. Lopez defines hope as the energy and ideas that drive people to change their circumstances, and he champions hope as an extremely powerful tool that everyone can use in response to life’s challenges, such as losing a job or receiving a dire health prognosis.

When we have hope, we see the challenges before us as temporary and beatable. Hope inspires us to push on when life gets difficult. Hope provides a powerful psychological benefit that lifts our spirits, increases our self-esteem and provides us energy. Without it, we’re almost destined to struggle.

One of my greatest sources of hope is the success of others. Seeing others succeed affirms my faith that exceptional things can be accomplished with exceptional effort by exceptional people. It’s a belief that my parents instilled in me at a young age.

My fourth grade year was filled with challenges. It was the year that my parents decided that my physical condition wasn’t something that I would grow out of, like we hoped. That meant frequent three-hour trips from Loup City to Omaha, to see the state’s top neurologists and orthopedists at the Nebraska Medical Center. These trips were never fun, because they invariably entailed painful tests, like muscle biopsies and nerve conduction tests, and a lot of anxiety about my future. To that point, I was a kid with a slight limp. Now, there was talk of brain tumors and muscular dystrophy. Through it all, my parents never allowed me to lose hope.

In spite of the uncertainty and anxiety, they helped me imagine a bright future for myself. They encouraged me to initiate conversations with my doctors and to imagine myself as a physician. When we saw the big houses on the bluffs of the Elkhorn River on the drive in, they told me that I could have a similar home, if I worked hard. They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or unworthy of success. They never told me that life would be easy or that I should expect anything that I didn’t work for, but they gave me hope for a promising future.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to have close friendships with many high achievers who earned their success through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I admire their accomplishments and approach toward their work, and they inspire me to higher standards.

I wish that we saw more messages like that from our leaders and that success would return to high esteem. Imagine what could happen if we valued hope over pity and jealousy.

Related reading:

http://www.hopemonger.com/

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