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The Dangers of Appeasing the Victims

We know from our studies of human beings that behaviour is fashioned by the consequences that follow from the behaviour. If the consequences are negative we are less likely to repeat the behaviour but if the consequences are positive the behaviour is reinforced and more likely to be repeated.

In their great little book Declare Yourself: Discovering the Me in Relationships , John Narciso and David Burkett introduce the notion of “get-my-way” behaviours.

The good Dr Phil would often tell me that you can often understand more about human behaviour from what happens subsequent to the behaviour than what happened before. We are often fooled into believing that behaviours are similar to the laws of physics where a stimulus results in a logical response, but this is often not the case.

As Narciso and Burkett point out, much of human behaviour is not so much triggered by a stimulus  but is acted out as a manipulative strategy to help us get our way. This is not necessarily a conscious decision but a learned response. And as we saw above, if it works, it gets reinforced.

Narciso and Burkett wrote, “Most get-my-way techniques can be lumped under three broad headings: helplessness, suffering, and anger. These are learned responses to interpersonal situations that aren’t going the way we want them to go.”

Now in modern society we are beginning to see much more of such behaviour in our social and political settings. As we saw in a recent blog essay, identity politics is spawning more and more minority groups who rely on these techniques to extend their influence. Their favourite tool is suffering. The particular technique they use to demonstrate their suffering is taking offense.

The underlying problem here is if someone continually succeeds in getting their way by taking on the mantle of victimhood and pleading they are being offended then that behaviour is reinforced and consequently more likely to be used and of course then emulated by others.

And we know that basically it is all a charade. We don’t need to be offended; we choose to be offended because of the pay-off we get.

We suffer in two different ways from this psychological manipulation.

To begin with we are allowing society to be unduly influenced by dogmatic minorities.

In previous essays we have seen how the LGBTQI community has influenced our social institutions, educational programs, rights to free speech and even our employment laws from a very small numerical base. We want to ensure those with alternative sexual orientations are properly protected but we can’t let them take over our democracy.

We have seen how climate change evangelists have curtailed economic growth, increased energy costs and made our electricity supply less reliable. We want to see our environment appropriately protected but not at the expense of a reasonable standard of living.

Activists in the Aboriginal industry promote victimhood amongst the indigenous population and urge us to spend more and more money on dubious programs that show no discernible improvements to indigenous welfare. We want to see all indigenous people given the wherefore to succeed in our society. Encouraging them to see themselves as victims is not helpful.

It is certainly appropriate that we should protect the rights of minority groups in our democratic society. After all most of us at various times have been members of a minority. But we should never allow the protection of minority group rights to thwart the intention of the majority.

This week’s tragedy in the USA reminds us that right wing zealots also impact negatively on the welfare of citizens. Mass killings of American citizens have been made possible by the American gun lobby – a minority group which has prevented meaningful gun law reform.

Our democracy is thus threatened because as I have pointed out before Governments now no longer make decisions to further the betterment of the majority. They, in fact, only make decisions that will not upset any significant minority.

Democracy is enhanced when citizens agree to abide by the decisions of the majority. Unfortunately in this era of identity politics we see many of the minority groups reluctant to commit to the majority decision. Reactions to Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the same sex marriage debate in Australia provide current examples.

Now we are faced with a downward spiral because every time we accede to someone’s confected suffering we merely reinforce the get-my-way behaviour and therefore encourage more of the same. In this way our democracy is insidiously being eroded.

But inevitably, as with many social influences, the resort to get-my-way techniques has both collective and individual impacts. Whilst at the collective level we have the serious matter of our democracy being threatened, I believe at the individual level the impact is potentially worse.

As I related earlier, the most pervasive get-my-way technique is taking is suffering as played out by taking offense (but often coloured with more than a little helplessness and anger as well). Let us take a little time now to unravel this most dubious practice.

There are quite a few issues with taking offense, but let me start with one that might not be so obvious to those who don’t understand human nature so well. Let me state it as forcefully as I can – taking offense is very unlikely to advance the welfare of the supposed victim! Such people have forfeited their right to happiness to the opinions of others. They avoid confronting information and dissenting opinion and seek to hide in “safe spaces” and want to be shielded by “trigger warnings” unless they might be affronted by ideas other than the conventional wisdom promoted by their particular tribe of identity politics. Such people have surrendered their own agency to others.

Research shows that those with a sense of an internal locus of control, that is a conviction of some personal agency, are not only more psychologically robust but are likely to be more successful in most areas of their lives. But it seems both our parenting and our education system is conspiring against this. I am sure the world would be a far better place if instead of encouraging people to resort to victimhood we were teaching them how to be more psychologically robust.

This is unfortunately not well understood. In a recent book, The Freedom Trap, Monash University academic, Dr Craig Hassed, wrote:

Depending on the level of subjugation, people will not bear for long conditions under which they are not their own masters.

Dr Hassed is unfortunately wrong! The victims that I refer to, protest that they are not their own masters for long periods of time to promote their get-my-way behaviours. They rely on portraying that they are not their own masters and pursue that as a plank of their negative activism.

It is almost certain that if I choose to believe that my welfare is largely in someone else’s hands then I am unlikely to be happy. Indeed how could I be when I rely on my confected misery to emotionally manipulate others in order to “get my way”. (As we have seen many times before it is based an the erroneous notion that my happiness is more dependent on what transpires in my “outer” world, whereas the state of my “internal” world has far greater influence.)

So it is my contention that appeasing the victims is neither helpful to society nor to the individual. It is time that we encouraged people to more robust and deal with the realities of the world.

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  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2.   By Phil Harker on Oct 8, 2017 | Reply

    Or, as the poet John Taylor penned in 1642:

    “The world’s turned upside down, from bad to worse,
    Quite out of frame, The cart before the Horse”

    It seems that we are not pushed into psychological victimhood, but rather that we are pulled into it because (i) it relieves us of the terrifying egoic illusion of culpable failure and guilt in our social world that gives acceptance, love and regard on the conditional basis of competitive success, and (ii) it gives us a form of seemingly legitimate and inherently deniable power to fight back at those we perceive as judging us. If my own conscience does not condemn me, the condemnation from others will hardly even be noticed, and if it is noticed it will be viewed as ‘their problem’ not ‘my problem’. We ‘see’ what we ‘look for’ and what we look for is what we fear, and what we fear most is the judgement of others. A person’s own thoughts are their accusers and the pangs of a guilty conscience gives a person very little rest, day nor night. Perhaps this was what the ancient mystics were referring to when they metaphorically referred to a person being thrown ‘headlong’ into the ‘lake of fire’! In the ancient writings, the ‘sea’ was often used as an allegorical reference to one’s inner ‘arena of consciousness’ and just as the ‘troubled sea’ can be very turbulent – surging up to pride, and down again to guilt – it can also be very calm, akin to a ‘sea of glass’.

    Nearly a century ago the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Taurnier wrote in his book, The Strong and the Weak, that whilst it is well known that many wear a ‘mask of strength’ as a cover for their deeper sense of fragility and weakness, it is also true, but much less obvious, and an apparent anomaly, that a person may wear a ‘mask of weakness’ as a cover to gain power over others and thereby hide themselves from actually accepting and more effectively dealing with their sense of body-based weakness and vulnerability. Taurnier made the point that it is only in coming to really accept one’s body-based vulnerability and weakness that a person can become truly strong and pass through this little ‘vale of tears’ with laughter and love.

    The wonderful little book: Love Is Letting Go of Fear, by Gerald G. Jampolsky expresses this same thought re the true freedom that comes with letting go of existential fear. Perhaps this is our only freedom!

  3.   By tedscott on Oct 8, 2017 | Reply

    Thank you Dr Phil!

    I particularly liked your sentence: If my own conscience does not condemn me, the condemnation from others will hardly even be noticed, and if it is noticed it will be viewed as ‘their problem’ not ‘my problem’.

    In the end it goes back to the issue of self-acceptance.

    Whilst my own understanding of this has largely come from you, I have been reading some of the writings of Alfred Adler recently and he makes self-acceptance a centrepoint of his philosophy as well. No doubt self-acceptance is the underpinning of psychological robustness which is so important to people’s sense of well-being and ability to see the world more clearly.

    I guess my underlying message was not to encourage victimhood but to enourage psychological robustness which is necessarily underpinned by self-acceptance.

  4.   By Anthony on Oct 8, 2017 | Reply

    Excellent article again Ted. No doubt many will reject it because it so much easier to believe your ‘suffering’ is caused by someone else.

  5.   By Joy Holbrook on Oct 8, 2017 | Reply

    If you’re not happy within yourself, nobody can make you happy. The true secret of happiness is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have. You can try to run away from your unhappiness but wherever you go,you have to take yourself with you.

    I’m a simple, very ordinary woman but these are the truths by which I live my life and it’s a life with many difficulties.

  6.   By tedscott on Oct 8, 2017 | Reply

    It is apparent that you have indeed learnt a powerful truth, Joy.

    A person who has learnt self-acceptance is reasonably immune from the exigencies of life.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

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