Power in playing the victim

December 16, 2015 by Joshua
in Awareness, Leadership, Perception

As soon as I saw this scene in the movie Boyhood, I knew I had to post about it. Any man who grew up with a sister experienced the frustration you learn to live with of society (represented by parents in the context of a family) considering you guilty first and responsible for problems.

His sister taunts him. When the mother enters, his sister fakes tears and victimhood and their mother tells him to stop.

The movie dramatizes the scene to evoke emotions more strongly, so interactions aren’t so blatant, but even taking that into account, this scene hit me on a couple levels. First, having grown up with sisters, I remember the frustration at knowing my parents would take their sides by default if they complained. I couldn’t have stated it clearly then, but we all knew their power in weakness despite us living in a system that claimed to treat everyone equally.

People confuse physical strength with power, but physical weakness often gets great power from authorities. Every boy knows that crying that his sister was bothering him won’t get her punished like they’ll punish him if she does, even if she fakes it. How many parents unwittingly teach their girls to cry and complain instead of acting in their interests and teach their boys helplessness in response?

Second, the same dynamic plays out in society. Playing martyr or victim gets people in authority—politicians, journalists, non-profits, etc—to support the claimed victims, often without logical reason. Someone calling themselves outraged or offended or calling someone else privileged gets thoughtless people, especially authorities, on their side. Often if you defend yourself, authorities will come down on you.

The problem is that playing victim leads people to believe themselves, which decreases their ability to act productively. People learn to keep themselves weak and helpless on their own so authorities will help them.

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