In a commentary in The Tablet back in July, Fr Daniel O'Leary wrote: "Recent research by Microsoft suggests that the average human attention span now stands at eight seconds. That is less, apparently, than that of a goldfish. This is astonishing. Can the quality and depth of our thinking have been so deeply affected by the incessant distractions of modern life? Our minds are precarious and vulnerable. Whenever we suffer pain, something in our consciousness is always quick to identify with that pain and we relay it over and over again, so that the stress we experience is magnified and intensified. The American Franciscan writer, Richard Rohr, believes that 'almost all humans have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder of the mind, which is why many people become fearful, suspicious, wrapped around their negative commentaries'. In other words, we are all inclined to become prisoners of our own thought patterns. But while the way we think has the potential to wreck our contentment, our thoughts also have an extraordinary capacity for transforming our lives for the better. It is not by stopping our thinking that we are set free; it is by thinking differently." In this commentary for catholica Fr Eugene Stockton shares some of his perceptions learned from his long years of pastoral work with the indigenous people who were saddled with monstrous injustice in the way their land, their culture, and their sense of self-respect was stolen from them. We all suffer injustice in some form or other. This commentary is a reflection on how do we turn ourselves from victims into victors? ...Brian Coyne, Editor
by Fr Eugene Stockton
It is of interest to note the different ways languages ascribe a feeling to the subject. Where English has "I am hungry, afraid etc." French, Italian has "I have hunger etc." (I'ai faim, ho fame). In one the subject is identified with the feeling, in the other the feeling happens to the subject – in logical terms it is an accident. Language reflects perceived reality, how one regards a hurt or disability. A victim is one who identifies with the hurt, it is part of their identity. A sufferer is distinct from the hurt they bear. A sufferer can learn to cope with the suffering they bear, or in Gospel terms, the disciple "bears his cross", (a separate entity to subject).
The world view of a victim is often one centred on self (narcissism). Out there is the "cruel world" ranged against "poor me." "Them" widens to include others lumped with the bully, "the enemy." Stereotypes abound, as against the specification of the actual perpetrator. So for example the Church or a race is blamed for the actions of the individual hurt-doer. The would-be carer or sympathiser tends to be drawn into this world view, to support the stance of the victim. A person who does not enter into this world view may be reacted against with a reprise out of proportion to their independent stand. A victim may have little sympathy for other victims.
Daniel O'Leary writing in The Tablet [11/7/15 p.13] explains how we mull over our pain, relaying it over and over again, magnifying our stress. Increasingly we become prisoners of our own thought patterns. Instead of seeing things as they are – objective, impersonal, neutral – we see them as we are: vulnerable, unsure, fragile. We mistake our fearful exaggerations for reality itself.
Victimhood: not only personal but collective or corporate...
Victimhood is not only a personal trait, but also corporate. Persecuted peoples are collective victims sharing actual oppression or the memory of oppression. A persecution or martyr complex can be handed down from generation to generation, undiminished by time, so that it becomes a long-lasting tradition, part of their culture. I have observed this with Jews, Irish, Aborigines, Shia' Muslims. After six centuries Serbs have not forgotten their defeat by the Ottomans in Kosovo. The Crusades are a living memory in the Levant. Aborigines often display their "chip on the shoulder," especially those from towns with a poor contact history. It is the individual who needs healing from the collective feeling of hurt.
Healing can come about only by changing one's thinking, one's world view. We can choose to change our thinking, we can choose to change our world. But a victim tends to resist change because one's identity is threatened. Salvation can come about only by a conversion, a metanoia, turning one's world view upside down. Then the victim becomes a victor.
How do I set about healing the victim? Of course I don't blunder in with a "Get over it". First the would-be healer must recognise that the hurt is real, not a figment of their imagination. The sympathy offered must be in the form of "tough love." I must not be sucked into the world view of the victim, but stand apart to offer a vision of victory. (The helper needs to take care of themselves, otherwise misplaced sympathy may perpetuate the hurt in the victim and the carer). What can be offered sincerely is faith in the person, empowering the victim to take power over his world. It is important to specify the hurt-doer, not a stereotype or umbrella institution, but the actual person, recognising his limits in continuing the hurting. Help the victim to make a deliberate choice to want the victory and the freedom, and then to grab it. I am going to be a different person, and to live in a different world.
Supporting the individual to take command...
These convictions came out of my pastoral work with Aborigines. I observed some faulty procedures. Both State and Church agencies tend to start from the premise that Aborigines are a problem and then try to intervene to "solve" the problem. On the other hand I observed kind-hearted priests and religious who sought to cushion the effect of the hurt in the other, ending up by sharing the world view of the victim without lessening it. Both procedures were ineffective. I saw my main aim was to support the individual to take command. In Aboriginal affairs it is important to recognise leadership and support it, because Aboriginal leadership is best placed to lead the rest to freedom. Empowerment is the key: offering faith in the other and a new vision of what might be.
The modelling provided by Jesus...
Salvation is the good news of the Gospel. The world Jesus came into was not a happy place, and that is reflected in our own time. St. Paul [Rom. 1-3; 7] described the universality of the sense of sin and of the sense of helplessness in the face of sin. All around people experienced oppression – military, political, fiscal and religious. Much of Jesus' ministry was recorded as freeing people from evil spirits, the way they then thought of being "possessed" by longstanding physical and mental disability. Jesus came, identifying with us, not just as a human being, but as a fellow victim. Yet looking forward to a vision of "the Kingdom of God." The cruel death he died was the death of a victim (forsaken by God), but he rose to new life as a victor. This Paschal Mystery (the passage through death to life) was the way he invited us to follow, a dying to the old self and a rising to a new, eternal life.
So his words to one who would be a disciple: "If anyone wants to be a follower of me, let he renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." [Lk. 9:23]. The disciple becomes aware of the new world view, the Kingdom of God, that is the same world as before, but now seen under the benign rule of God, permeated by the love and compassion of a caring Father. Divine love is like an enveloping atmosphere, in whom "we live and move and have our being" [Acts 17:28]. Jesus said, "Remain in my love" [Jn. 14:9].
Eugene Stockton, submitted to catholica, 21 Oct 2015