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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #73, 1/21/2007

Responsibilities of the Victim

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

NOTE: This essay was rewritten as Kilroy Cafe #40: The Responsibilities of the Victim

The original essay is retained below for archive purposes only.

No matter how carefully we plan our lives, bad things are going to happen. People close to us are going to die. We or people we care about are going to get terrible diseases. We are going to become the victims of crime or disfiguring accidents. These things are not anomalies. They are part of the normal course of life.

The chance of any one disaster happening is usually low, but when you add up all the possible things that can go wrong, you have to face reality: You are going to encounter some major unanticipated catastrophes between now and the end of your life. Are you ready for them?

Almost always, the tragedy was preventable. In retrospect, there was usually something that you could have done to avoid it, but the issue is moot now. You can't undo a traffic accident or prevent a heart attack after it has happened. You can only adapt to the new course of events and find some sort of strength in it.

This isn't just an academic exercise, because an unexpected disaster is bound to happen sooner than you think. When it does, you are going to become a victim. It is useful to decide right now what that means, before you are victimized, so you are prepared for it.

In court, a lot of attention is given to "victim rights." For example, the victim of a crime has a right to speak in court prior to the perpetrator's sentencing. In practice, these speeches usually have little impact on the sentence. Their main function is to give the victim an opportunity to vent. When someone has hurt someone else, the victim usually wants "justice," which means an equal and opposite pain afflicted on the other person.

There is a common theme that runs through most victim statements: "Hang 'em high!" The victim usually calls for maximum punishment, and it is very rare that one will ask the court for leniency.

What is rarely talked about is "victim responsibility." This is a whole different concept that may be hard to grasp at first. A victim can't just be a victim and expect to overcome the disaster. Within himself, he has to take responsibility for the catastrophe, even if he didn't cause it.

This doesn't mean that the perpetrator should get off the hook. It means that regardless of the cause of the disaster, the victim has to accept it as his own. Thereby, he stops being a victim and starts being a captain. It is the difference between being tossed around helplessly by a storm and taking control of your ship and meeting the challenge.

Victimhood is a disease that you have to escape from as quickly as possible. If someone has chopped off two of your arms and one of your legs, then you have to march ahead on your one good leg and make the best of it. There may be prosecutors and personal injury attorneys who will seek retribution and compensation on your behalf. You can let them do their thing, but seeking redress isn't your job. Your job is to rebuild your life from here.

It is like the motto of the Six Million Dollar Man: "We can rebuild him.... We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster."

The crisis must be seen as an opportunity, not a defeat. You really have no choice in the matter.

With disaster comes responsibility. Even if you didn't cause the event, you should act as though you did. Is it your fault that you were crippled in a car accident? Maybe or maybe not, but that's irrelevant now. It is now part of your life, and you need to embrace it. You can let your attorney seek compensation, but you are not going to sit around and wait for the money to come in. If the only movement you have is in your little finger, that's what you've got to use, right now, to take control of your universe.

It is natural for you to become an advocate for whatever issue it is that hurt you, but you are not seeking revenge; you are simply seeking to share your knowledge. If your child has muscular dystrophy, then you are going to understand certain aspects of this disease better than anyone who reads about it in books. Disasters have a way of turning you into an expert. Seeking knowledge is best way of dealing with any crisis, and once you have this gift, it is usually something that you want to share. Because you have directly experienced the problem and have personally felt its emotional effects, you may be better equipped than anyone to describe and address it.

It may not be your fault that the disaster happened, but it is your fault if you fall into victimhood and deny your responsibility. Lots of us have to deal with things that aren't our fault, like the families we were born into or the place on earth where we got dropped. That doesn't make them any less our responsibility.

Even the person who did this to us is our responsibility. By virtue of being their victim, we have some power over them and bear some burden for their fate. This is especially true when we stand in court at their sentencing.

"Hang 'em high!" is not a terribly useful emotion. No matter how wronged you were, you are now in a leadership position where you must decide the future. Certainly it is important to take a dangerous person off the street and assure that a similar disaster doesn't happen again. As a victim, it is your responsibility to prevent a repeat performance. There isn't any benefit, however, in revenge.

Causing pain to the person who caused you pain doesn't accomplish anything in itself. It doesn't undo the crime. Focussing on this kind of redress doesn't help you, either. "He who seeks revenge must dig two graves."

When disaster befalls you, you must become the master of it, the leader. You will tell others what to think and do about it. You will be responsible for seeking a correction, but not retribution.

You will rise above the crisis and become stronger, smarter and more compassionate. No matter what happens, you will use it as a tool to become better than you were.

—G.C.




Reader Comments

“Excellent!” —Joe in NY 1/21/07 (rating=5)

“Superb! I think we should ALL teach this to our children!” —psmflowerlady 1/22/07 (rating=5)

Ratings so far: 5 5 5 3 2 5 5 (Average=4.2)

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