I don’t believe in victimhood. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of true victims in this world. There are still a few Holocaust survivors out there (at the time of this writing), millions of violent crime victims, and countless others who have seen the worst humanity has to offer. What I’m referring to is this modern-day, expanded definition of victimhood that runs rampant throughout the civilized world. The one that robs perfectly capable individuals of their dignity, self-respect, and human potential.
I’m not writing this because I’m perfect in any way, because I’m quite far from it. It’s to draw attention to the fact that much of what passes for helplessness today comes from a false sense of entitlement. I know many people who have beaten back far worse problems than I’ll ever face. So I can’t feel defeated for long without remembering that my own First World “problems” aren’t all that bad. My life certainly doesn’t suck and whatever difficulties I do experience should be expected – and ACCEPTED as a normal part of life.
If you keep up with international news, or read history like I do, you should know who the real victims are. As far as I’m concerned, Holocaust survivors more than qualify. But what I find most fascinating is the strong will some of them had to survive. I once read about a 10 year-old boy who escaped a mass execution by hiding beneath a pile of naked bodies in the pit where they had been slaughtered. His mother had insisted he do whatever it took to survive, so that someone would live to tell their story. So he waited until he heard nothing but silence, then he ran for his life. He spent the next three years in the forest with a group of resistance fighters.
I’ve also read accounts of people with terminal diseases who continue to go about their daily lives, as though nothing has changed. Think what you will of U.S. Senator John McCain, but I watched him march right back into congress not long after being told he was dying of brain cancer. As far as he was concerned, he still had work to do and it wasn’t going to be over until he breathed his last. It’s worth remembering that he also spent five and a half years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. It seems to me that a prisoner of war or someone facing a terminal diagnosis would have more reason to complain than I would. I sometimes contemplate what my state of mind be like if I knew I was dying soon. I can’t say how I would take it, but studying people like this makes my problems seem a whole lot smaller.
Yes, I know. Someone always chimes in with a reminder about how not everyone is that strong. Well, obviously not. If everyone were that strong, there would be more successful billionaires, fewer suicides, and probably zero demand for antidepressants. But of the ones who really are that strong, NONE of them were born that way. Our ancestors struggled with difficulties we can’t even imagine. Their strong minds were developed by facing actual threats to their survival from the time they were young. REAL PROBLEMS, not minor inconveniences. We might not have to face such hardships today, but we can still strengthen our minds by tackling smaller challenges regularly – and willingly. As it turns out, developing mental strength isn’t all that different from developing physical strength.
What types of challenges am I talking about? If you’re overweight, try losing a few pounds for the sake of your health. Think about what this would do for your self-confidence if you succeeded! Why not learn a new language, just to exercise a different part of your brain? You could challenge yourself even further by waking up 15 minutes earlier each day to find the extra time you would need. Try taking the stairs for a week, instead of the elevator. Or if you never go anywhere without company, try going to the movies or to dinner by yourself. It’s not going to kill you to learn how to feel secure in your solitude. On the contrary, it will make you stronger, more contemplative, and less concerned about the opinions of others who can’t bring themselves to do the same. You’ll come to realize that you don’t really need those crutches.
The most confident, mentally strong individuals are the ones who are willing to run that extra mile each day. They’re the ones who do these seemingly unnecessary things just to test themselves and maybe enjoy the “high” of the resulting accomplishment. They’re the ones who always seem to feel better about themselves than everyone else. They’re the ones who aim higher than all the rest. They’re the ones who know how to handle whatever life throws at them – not because they’re better than anyone else, but because they’ve decided that it just feels better to be strong and capable. They like it enough to be tough on themselves when they don’t really have to be. They’re some of the most successful people on the planet because they are not discouraged by the same struggles that keep others down.
Why not try to open that side business you’ve been thinking about? Because it’s difficult? Well, there you go! That’s the whole point and the actual process of overcoming that difficulty is what will strengthen your mind in ways you can’t yet imagine. The process of pushing yourself a bit further each day is what you have to fall in love with, not the result. Just do it for no other reason than to prove that you can and watch what happens. If you never challenge yourself in life, you become too comfortable for your own good. The consequence of living in these comfort zones is that when tough times do come, they hurt far more than they should. It’s when people are faced with these discouraging defeats that they begin thinking of themselves as “victims.”
Make no mistake, you absolutely CAN become a stronger person inside. It won’t happen overnight, but by taking on new challenges regularly, you can condition your mind to think differently at a time of crisis. Most of the people who have made this a lifestyle aren’t planning to cross Antarctica or climb Everest. They are doing it because they believe in being able to cope with whatever life throws at them. If you’re raising kids, or even just planning to someday, you have a chance to set a strong example of how to live a good life the right way. In a world where kids are subject to so many of the wrong influences, teaching them to be mentally strong is one of the greatest gifts you could possibly offer them.