The room was quiet as an experienced and capable assembly of more than a dozen people entered and shared their account of their troubling experience in the business world. There were startup founders, established businesses and people making it in the tech scene. Three speakers bravely shared their experiences in that domain to a room of strangers who could feel every word that left their mouths.
A day later I awoke thinking about one word. One word I’ve seen change immeasurably in recent years. “Victim”
The Oxford English Dictionary website defines ‘Victim’ as:
“One who suffers some injury, hardship, or loss, is badly treated or taken advantage of”
This is perhaps the definition many of us are familiar with. Being a victim of crime, a tragic accident or health condition. Yet in recent months, a new definition has started to appear in business contexts and society as a whole, especially in the context of diversity discussions, or perhaps as a dismissal when shielding oneself from the consequences of one’s own action or inaction.
“She’s playing the victim and turning the experience into a sales opportunity, to her advantage”
Someone highlighting a bad experience they had, attributed to something beyond their control. Especially where a physical, or protected characteristic is employed. These day, the tone of the word is changing. More and more conversations appearing to resent victims, using phrases like “She’s a victim”, “He’s a victim” as if those ‘victims’ are a bit “UKIP”, akin to condescendingly minimising the experience of the Black population in UK history because “he’s a vindictive n*****”.
So here’s the challenge. Look back on the struggles of women, people of ethnicity and the disabled. Remember where they were and where you are not. Remember their experience may very well be totally different to yours. Check your position with the above paragraph and here is a question to help frame your thinking. Even if they declare their ‘victim’ status, ask, “why does it matter?”
Part of improving, doing things for the better and having the social conscience you think or even say that you have, is acknowledging problems that you don’t know are there, or know anything about, because they’re outside your frame of reference. Sure, some victims may turn that to their advantage. You know what? That question again, “why does it matter?”. Females starting a discussion about an inappropriate message sent by males on LinkedIn to ‘get more sales’? If the sales marks are anything like you, they won’t get any sales from it. They’re highlighting the problems prevalent on that platform.
If having been a victim doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. It provides you with a vision of a better place and empathy, experience and solution expertise in a place others have not been nor often seen. What do call them in the business world? Entrepreneurs or pioneers. The only way declaring self-proclaimed victimisation truly matters is that victims are turning what was or is a hugely negative experience into a positive for them and sometimes, for people at large. You know what? That’s OK! Good in fact. Ever seen an inspirational speaker? What about the stories of the sales people or entrepreneurs who failed? Liked that story? They were victims of circumstance. Chances are, they were also at one point vocal victims of circumstance.
Ask yourself “does it matter?”. They turned being a victim to their advantage. If you chastise someone for being a victim, does that pattern not feel like you’re contributing to a problem that doesn’t need to exist? That you are one of the many pushing people down not helping them up? That’s your style? Cool. Prey there are people to help you when you fall. Chances are there will be, but you won’t appreciate it. Treating them like the victim you think they are and sleepwalking into the realms of the first in the OED’s list.
A living creature killed and offered as a sacrifice to some deity or supernatural power.
…the superpower of money? Happiness? Peer pressure? Your own neuroses? Where did that come from?
So here’s the thing. I call upon folk to take back the word victim and place it in a box together with empathy. If you don’t have the ability to reference a word to frame your thinking against the bad stuff that happens, then you’ll go on contributing to bad stuff happening, oblivious to the effect it’s having on others who’ve already been burnt once! Think about what you feel or who you see when thinking of immigrants, people of colour, the physically disabled, the corporate CEO. They may even be one in the same person… if we’re lucky, but it shouldn’t be a matter of luck, of finding that archetypal image or success story, because chances are, it’s not what you think. The number of studies showing diversity or empathy is important and beneficial to business is becoming uncountable. Being part of the solution is crucial!