You may have had the pleasure of catching one of the classic Warner Bros. Roadrunner cartoons, the perfect option to watching Disney’s Mickey Mouse. While the cartoons were repetitious, they stayed extremely funny. Wile E. Coyote devoted his entire existence to a futile attempt to catch Roadrunner and eat him alive.
Despite Coyote’s best efforts, he always seemed to run off a cliff, suddenly look down and crash at the bottom. Roadrunner always honked a warning “Beep Beep,” but Coyote never seemed to get it. He was caught in a futile cycle of the persecutor who becomes his own victim.
In a way, we are all like Coyote, which is why I never tire of viewing that series.
You may have heard of the iconic Helen Keller of a previous generation. Helen suffered the supreme misfortune shortly after birth of becoming both blind and deaf, forever locked into her own world.
A profoundly inspiring film, The Miracle Worker, depicts the heroic efforts of her parents and caretaker to do everything humanly possible to give Helen a normal life. Helen actually became highly literate; an author of 12 books, and sought after speaker the world over.
While shit happens--and no one can forget the shock of 9/11--a careful examination of what lead up to this tragedy reveals that the U.S. had done much to provoke Arabs and Muslims to create Al Qaeda and inspire such a dastardly conspiracy. We can’t forget the day President George Bush decided to bomb Baghdad, bringing American troops into Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Storm.
We opt for victimhood because it is the easy way out. It requires no soul searching. We get to blame others without being blamed ourselves. We blame the rapist, the attacker, the racist and the religious bigot. People will often pay us handsomely to tell our story, and the media thrive on juicy content to entertain their bored viewers.
We finally get to be right. We justify positions we have assumed about the world since childhood. Mom and Dad were mean to us on various occasions. They slapped us, humiliated us and occasionally abused us. How can we forgive them? Soon enough the whole world starts acting that way.
I remember the zany TV series, McHale’s Navy, about a PT-boat lieutenant commander that continuously outwits his superior, Captain Binghamton. Whenever the captain is foiled, he looks up into heaven and asks God, “Why me? Why always me?” We laugh, but it is all too often us raising the question. The captain was mediocre. It took the lieutenant commander to bring any life to the party.
Victimization is an unconscious interpretation of our experience. When we base everything on appearances, we fall victim often enough. I can never forget the moment in the epic film, Gandhi, where the Mahatma as a young man gets thrown out of a South African train for being “colored” and insisting on a first-class booth. A shocked Gandhi rises from the dust, scratches his head and begins to deal with the “real world” in very creative ways.
Nelson Mandela started out as a tribal chieftain who sought freedom for his people. He wanted to end South African Apartheid once and for all, and have an equal voice with the English and the Afrikaans. He ended up trying to detonate a bomb, was imprisoned, tried and confined to hard labor. As we see in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, how Mandela decides to come to terms with the world and treasure his prison cell.
In that same cell, he becomes the model prisoner and develops a new vision of South Africa. His process of Truth and Reconciliation stunned the world.
Martin Luther King was an exceptionally bright student attending Harvard University. He could have gone on to live a comfortable life as a prominent Black minister in a segregated society. However, when Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man on a Little Rock bus, King chose to side with his own people and end segregation. Like Gandhi, he repeatedly ended up in jail, where he did some of his best writing. King continually chose NOT to play victim, even when being monitored by the FBI.
When you blame someone else, you give away your power. Who is the creator of your experience, you or him? It is within your own experience that he abuses you. By interpreting his actions as hostile, you increase the likelihood he will become even more hostile and you will violently retaliate.
When we read the “Sermon on the Mount,” and consider how Jesus advises us all to turn the cheek and love and forgive our enemies, it seems like a total fairy tale to us today, rather than a viable option. Few of us consider just how much forgiving our opponents and enemies actually empowers us. Divine love is a force that is very difficult to overcome. Perpetrators usually break down and sob. They can resist anything but total love and acceptance.
When you blame other people, not only do you disempower yourself, you lose all possibility of experiencing love, love from others, and love towards others. When you put conditions on who gets your love and who doesn’t, you cheapen love and rob life of all its vitality.
The less love in the world, the more suppressed is the quality of our lives.
Many years ago, fresh out of college, I was starry-eyed about the possibility of enlightenment and how the est training could shift ordinary people’s consciousness in extraordinary ways and supercharge their life. I had already heard about Werner Erhard being highly controversial, with everyone bitching about his never letting anyone go to the bathroom.
I took the plunge, doing the 60-hour training over a couple of weekends in a hotel ballroom. It was the most amazing experience of my life, in that it made real what I had only read about. It took me from being my nametag, body and mind to the space in which the galaxies spin. I realized on the heart level that the God we all worship is actually hiding out as each one of us. I was introduced to a new perspective, a context of self-responsibility, where I could look at everything that had happened to me up to that point as not accidental, but perfect.
Werner and the est trainers invited participants in all phases of the program to come from the perspective that that they are responsible for what happens to them, what they do to others, and even what another does to another. Over time, I developed an unshakable preference for empowerment, for shunning victimization. From thereon, in every single upset in my life, I had the growing sense that I had something to do with it.
Gandhi hated racism sanctioned by the British Empire, and ultimately chose to bring it down. Nelson Mandela hated being a disenfranchised citizen, and did whatever it took to end Apartheid. The early Christians chose to cling to their faith in the King of Kings, even though it meant being thrown to the lions. Even though a violent death awaited each of them, they chose to go with hymns on their lips. In the process, the Roman Empire was ultimately transformed into the Roman Catholic Church.
When you choose to experience injustice in a transformed manner, the power of exploitation is blunted. It is no fun to continue to persecute people who insist on thinking the best of you. When you choose the higher road, it is infectious. Who wants to opt out of love, joy and peace, when they are made abundantly available? In truth, we are all magnificent. It is just that we get so lost in our acts that we stop believing in ourselves.
President Obama was an Afro-American whose father abandoned him. He grew up in white society and continued to interpret his experience as a change agent. He ended up in Harvard, then in politics. Who would ever have predicted that this little boy from Hawaii would end up American President at a crucial point in history when the global economy had all but collapsed?
Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin and was largely self-taught. He went nowhere with his life until he was past 40. When he got the big break, the South decided to separate from the Union, precipitating the Civil War. President Lincoln fought the war with extraordinary tenacity, forever ending slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation. Just before being assassinated, he decided to forgive the South for a thankless war.
When Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister, Adolph Hitler had totally armed Germany, already setting the stage for the Third Reich. He consoled his people, “I have nothing to offer you except blood, sweat and tears.” This same Churchill, after the Battle of Britain, commended the British pilots with the words, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.” This bulldog Brit joined forces with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ending the Great Depression and setting the stage for a new golden age.
Ronald Reagan grew up during the Great Depression, became a movie star, ran for Governor of California, and became a charismatic conservative U.S. President. He was actually shot in his very first month in office, yet went on to serve two full terms. Reagan went on to confront the Soviet Union and actually end the Cold War, becoming close friends with General Secretary Gorbachev.
Each of these leaders saw the greatest reversals as unparalleled opportunities.
Today, we are challenged by terrorism, continuous military intervention and severe climate disruption. The nominated female candidate of a major party won the popular vote, only to be defeated on an electoral technicality.
If you want to play victim, you will never have more company.
Lot’s of people are convinced things are truly hopeless.
Yet, think of this. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton broke all norms in running for the highest office. Bernie Sanders reached out with his heart, despite limited means, and created a popular revolution. These people need never consider themselves victims. They have set a powerful precedent that will never be forgotten.
Now the torch has been handed to you and me to play big. We know there is zero satisfaction in playing small. We know that heroes are ordinary people in extraordinary times. We know that we have something to do with everything that happens.
If we look at Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, we see transformed people who overcame tremendous odds, even crucifixion, to reach out to humanity for thousands of years. They did what they did to be an inspiration to us, to remind us all of our divinity, that together, we can do even greater things.