Why I Don’t Like The Word ‘Victim’

The words that we use to describe something matters.

There’s a little joke that I’ve seen passed around on the internet from Tumblr user malkiewicz that I think illustrates this point nicely: “Synonyms are weird because if you invite someone to your cottage in the forest that just sounds nice and cozy, but if I invite you to my cabin in the woods you’re going to die.”

Connotation is everything. The words you use might have the same meaning, dictionary-wise, but the double-meaning that we have prescribed to them as a society also affects the way that we think about the matter at hand.

This is why I do not like the word ‘victim’.

I mean, if you look at the dictionary definition of ‘victim’, it’s a fine enough word, as far as words go: “one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent”. Chances are, we’ve all been victims at one point in our lives or another.

But there’s a social definition to the word ‘victim’ that I tend to not like.

When I hear the word ‘victim’, I tend to think of someone who is playing a very passive role in the scenario. And perhaps this isn’t helped by the people who I have heard use the word ‘victim’ in a negative way.

“You’re just playing the victim card.”

“Everyone wants to be a victim.”

Especially in scenarios where someone has been hurt by someone in particular, in an instance of abuse or sexual assault or discrimination, I find that the word ‘victim’ can be extremely limiting.

Because a victim doesn’t fight back. A victim doesn’t create change, or grow from the experience, or really do anything at all. A victim is… a victim. A victim hurts and wallows and needs to be saved.

And some people are victims. Some people do exactly this, all their lives. Some people have a very hard time moving passed or confronting their pain. But in a scenario where someone has been hurt by someone else, when they’ve been abused or harassed or assaulted, I don’t like to call people victims. I would rather think of them as survivors.

A survivor is a different connotation. A survivor is not passive. A survivor does not wallow, though they might hurt. And the difference might be slight, but it is important. Because people who have been hurt need to know that they can fight back.

Being hurt is not the end of our story. When we are hurt, we do not have to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves – we have options. We have a whole journey ahead of ourselves that we can choose to take.

We can fight against the person who has hurt us. And I don’t mean this in a violent or unfairly cruel way – I mean that we can stand up to them and make ourselves heard. We can remove that person from our lives if we have to. We can bring these people to justice, if we can and in whatever way we can.

We can fight for ourselves. Fight for our self-esteem and our ability to see our own worth. Fight for our ability to see our own strength, even when we think that it has been taken away from us. Fight for our self-respect and our mental health and our ease of mind. Fight to learn from what we’ve been through, and take those lessons into other aspects of our life.

We can fight for other people. We can reach out to people who have been through the same thing that we have. We can lend them an ear, or a hand. We can listen to their perspective and we can understand it because we’ve been there. We have the power to make them feel valid and heard and respected, and we can make them understand that they aren’t alone. We can reach out to people who haven’t been through what we’ve been through, and we can help them to understand that this happens, and it needs to be addressed. We can help people understand the issue in a way that would otherwise be very difficult for them, because they haven’t been there before.

There are many, many battles that can be fought by a person who has been hurt, and these battles can’t be fought by a victim. These battles are owned and spearheaded by survivors. And, no, not every person who has been hurt will fight these battles; some people get so lost in their own pain that they simply cannot fight them. But I still think that these battles are important, and I think that people should be encouraged to fight them. And I think that so many people can fight them, so long as they can find the strength. And strength can be found in something as simple as changing the language that we use to describe someone.

We are not victims of sexual assault. We are sexual assault survivors.

We are not victims of abuse. We are abuse survivors.

We are not victims of discrimination. We are survivors.

We are strong. We are capable. We are pro-active, and we have the ability to change the world. All we need to do is fight.

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Why We Can’t Only Focus on the Positive

I understand that everyone wants to be happy.

That’s the goal in life, right? To be happy. To feel fulfilled. I mean, as long as we have this, our lives are successful, right?

There are countless ways to reach this end. So many, in fact, that everyone has their own ways – art, love, family, pets, whatever works at the end of the day to make you feel warm and fuzzy. But one method that I hear brought up often is to focus on the positive in life.

I won’t deny that this is a worthwhile method. Not an easy one, but effective if you can teach yourself to do it right. Because we as human beings have this tendency to want to focus on the negative, for whatever reason (it sounds counter-productive to that whole ‘everyone wants to be happy’ theory, doesn’t it?). Before we notice the good in a situation, we’ll fixate on the bad. We obsess about flaws and pain and hardship so much that we sometimes forget to notice the strengths and growth and love, even when it is there.

And I do believe that what you see is what you get. If all you notice is what’s rotten with the world, then you’re not going to have a very high opinion of the world, are you? There might be a whole other side of the story, but to you, that won’t matter; what you focus on becomes your truth.

This is why it’s so important to train your mind to notice the good in the world. Because the good is there; we just need to see it.

And I believe this. Whole-heartedly, I believe this; but then there are the people who take it one step too far.

I have known people who will preach the importance of noticing the good in the world, of creating a more balanced, aware outlook on life. And yet, when someone tries to speak up about real pain and suffering in the world, they will just go silent. They will remove themselves from the conversation until it comes right back around to being about something happier again.

I have known people who will pretend that they have no pain, that everything in their world is just fine, even when that isn’t the case. Even when they are going through serious, life-changing pain, they still can’t bring themselves to complain. They can’t make their concerns heard; they need to focus on the positive in life.

These people bother me.

Because, like I said, I agree with training yourself to notice the good in the world. That is very important. But just because we notice the good in the world, just because we celebrate it and encourage it and hope that it continues, that doesn’t mean that we can’t notice when there is pain and hardship in the world.

We need to notice the good in the world because there is good in the world, and that good is worth fighting for. That good is what gets us through our days, keeps a smile on our face, makes our hearts a little lighter and our world a little brighter. Without the good, we’d all just be broken shells of despair, unenthused and unmotivated to do anything.

But we can’t live solely in the good. Because it might make us temporarily happier, but it won’t erase the fact that other people are still hurting. And, in some ways, it might even make things worse for us in the long run.

Because if we aren’t acknowledging the bad, the pain, the hardship, then we aren’t fighting it. We aren’t standing up for the voiceless, so the voiceless just keep getting beat down. We aren’t standing up for ourselves, so people just keep taking advantage of us and testing how many lines they can cross. We aren’t fighting for anything, and so no battles are won.

When we don’t acknowledge the bad, then we don’t challenge the bad. We become bystanders, and to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

The world that we came into was not perfect. And I’m not even sure that there is a way to make it perfect, but I do know that the only way to make it better is to stand up and fight for what matters. Not sit back and ignore the bad because we don’t want to see it.

End of day, all of this simply comes down to balance. We need both, the good and the bad, in order to function in this society. We need to know that the world is flawed. We need to know that pain and hurt happens every single day, and it is an uphill battle trying to stop it. But we need to know that we can stop it; maybe not today or tomorrow or a year from now, but if we keep trying, if we keep fighting, we can make a difference. We need to know that this is a world filled with love, and people who want to make a difference, even if it is also filled with people who don’t care about or even notice the harm that their actions cause. We need to notice both, because both are just as prevalent in our society.

Why Bother Fighting?

I suppose I’ve always taken it for granted that everyone believed, whole-heartedly, that fighting was important.

I’m not talking about fighting in the sense of barroom brawls or schoolyard bullying. I’m not talking about unnecessary physical violence, or even physical violence at all. I’m talking about people who stand by their beliefs to the death. I’m talking about people who refuse to let injustice or cruelty go forgotten or unmentioned. I’m talking about people who will not allow themselves to be pushed around or bullied, they have to stand up and do something. I thought that that was something that everyone believed in, it was just something that was difficult to enforce when the time actually came to do it.

But the other day, I was proudly listening to the news as they talked about people who were trying to stand up to Donald Trump. People who believed in something and were not willing to just let it go. People who needed to fight. And while I was listening to this, someone raised the question, “why do they even bother? They can’t win, so what are they doing?”

I was taken aback by this question. I suppose I’ve heard it raised before, but it’s been a while since I’ve needed to give the answer to it. Because, the way I see it, when you believe in something whole-heartedly, whether that be equal rights for others or equal treatment for yourself, what else can you do but fight?

And why do we fight? Why do we bother? I mean, people have fought battles since the dawn of time, and they have continued to fight even when they knew they couldn’t win. So the way I see it, we do not necessarily fight because we know we’re going to win. We very well might not win. Good battles have been lost again and again, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth fighting.

We fight because we can’t do anything but. We fight because we cannot be silent, we cannot allow people to get away with things that are not fair or right. We fight because it is better than laying down and being walked over.

We fight because we need change, and that will not happen if we do not demand it. We fight because, if we don’t, then nothing will ever progress. We fight because life is not always easy or fair, so what other choice do we have?

And even in fighting, things are not always fair. Good people have been torn down, threatened, spat on, even murdered in an attempt to silence their fight, but that doesn’t mean that they should never have fought. That doesn’t mean that their efforts went to waste. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X both were assassinated, but they and the things they believed in and fought for are still remembered today. The Taliban tried to silence Malala Yousafzai permanently, but she still fights. And she fights because it is a worthy battle that she cannot back down from.

And hopefully we do win. Hopefully our voices are heard and changes are made, but even if they aren’t, that doesn’t mean we should back down. All it means is that we have to keep trying.