This is the power that’s taken away from that individual that did these acts…he thought he was going to generate a race war…now they have the victory…he has no power in this at all. -Pastor Thomas Dixon, Charleston, South Carolina, CNN 6/19/15
As the Confederate flag was lowered respectfully, permanently at the South Carolina Statehouse, a nation and the world were further reminded how victims of harrowing loss were transformed into empowered victors – rendering a ruthless persecutor impotent. Their actions have a name: it is called leadership and more specifically, relational leadership which asserts that constructive relationships are our single-most valuable possession and highest priority. In Charleston, victims chose leadership by using the time-honored relational weapons of love, forgiveness and mercy while eschewing hate.
What a contrast – at a time when leadership seems on the ropes and our society seems lost in a victim’s arms race. Inner city poor in places like Baltimore are victims of the police, police are victims of unfair blame and of randomly being shot, gays are victims of discrimination, religious conservatives are victims of losing religious freedom, millennials are victim of a tough job market and organizational leaders are victims of a growing genre of younger workers resistive to being managed. Israeli versus Palestinian, ISIS vs. the west – most wars are between groups who feel victimized by each other. Women are victims of a war-on-women and men are victims of missing fathers and repelled by a more feminized world. Even Tom Brady – superstar NFL quarterback, rich, handsome, super-model wife – is the victim of an unfair commissioner. As a member of the victim class it is hard to gain entry into this fashionable victim circus because the waiting line is so long.
Who is this growing Victim Class? It is all of us who have forfeited our power by being self-fully obsessed with our losses, lost sight of our opportunities, and separated ourselves from gratitude and forgiveness. Our victim stampede crowds out the truly needy.
Have we mindlessly created a modernity wired for pity and resentment? The more we get the more we want which fuels disappointment. Millennials, who grew up with everyone getting a trophy, struggle when that practice disappears in adult life. Technology invites worldwide comparison to the largess of elites – the wealthy, famous, powerful, and beautiful. Facebook stokes envy by providing a window into the “idealized” lives of our peers. And politics and faith are animated by partisan sides that feel victimized by the other. It leaves many feeling left-out, opposed and victimized. Why have so many joined this growing Victim Class? Well, we had help.
Real Leaders vs. Victim Leader
Powerless victims imply the presence of powerful persecutors which demand noble rescuers. Enter the growing Victim Leader population – victim-mongers who live richly by transforming discontent into personal power. This dishonest dealer in relationships elevates his power by convincing followers to give up theirs. The three-step destruction process usually goes like this: highlight and pity the distressed, blame others while de-emphasizing personal responsibility, and promote the helplessness of victims. Pity is the opiate of followers of Victim Leaders.
These surviving victims of Charleston emerged as powerful leaders heading off victimhood by taking the initiative of forgiving their persecutor – right off the bat when the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof was being charged. They did not blame, accuse or demand someone else do something – rather they did something very large and difficult – they forgave. It freed them from any power their persecutor had exerted over them. Their leadership enlisted their friends and even their opposition around the larger cause – racial strife. In doing so, they initiated a collaborative process to grow stronger, more productive relationships that can grow better ways.
Rather than attempting to make everyone feel victimized, they unified and empowered. They did not rely on leaders from out-of-town, they led and rallied local leaders – white and black, left and right, rich and poor. Real leadership doesn’t ignore rampant abuse and inequality; rather, real leaders are determined to aid victims without further destroying their power.
Whether Tea Party rallies, inner-city protests, talk-radio jockeys or politicians like Donald Trump – making your tribe feel more victimized and persecuted has become a prevalent path to leadership. This power grab resembles an organ transplant whereby the beating-heart of those oppressed is removed and transferred to this faux leader. It plays out eventually with the “help-er” feeling superior and powerful while the “help-ee” feels inferior and powerless. Whether parents, leaders at work or the President, we are tempted to fall into the Victim Leadership trap because the short-cut to what feels good trumps the effort and sacrifice to “produce” good. No matter how well-intentioned, there is nothing more destructive than donning the cloak of victimhood – a strait-jacket that shackles resilience and goals.
Relational Leadership: Empowerment and Construction
The opposite of Victim Leaders who destroy responsibility and accountability are Relational Leaders who enhance them. Author Dorothy Horne, whose husband is in year-four with Alzheimer’s, says we often look at circumstances not of our choosing and ask: “Why me?” Her better question: “What is being asked of me?” Real Leaders help us ask that better question which shifts the focus from helpless victim to responsible/accountable solution-creator.
If we are serious about empowering victims, Victim Leaders must migrate to Relational Leadership in three ways:
Seek relational solutions over finding whom to blame. Genuine blame may be warranted, but regardless, real leaders engage friend and foe to build constructive solutions.
Empower others to save themselves. Real leaders chose making others powerful over appearing powerful.
Lead with your own responsibility and accountability before asking it of others.Real leaders, like great coaches, respond to injustice and hardship by encouraging more responsibility and accountability.
The flag came down in Charleston because former flag supporters changed their mind – powerful relational leaders can do that. Our growing Victim Class cries for relational leaders who work together to change minds and who bring the divided together.
Click here to read “Big Boy (Girl) Pants for Leaders: Three Keys to Redirecting Our Victim Culture” by Robert Hall, Huffington Post