Working extensively with marginalized population groups, broken people steeped in their addictions, overwhelmed with their own trauma and abuse stories, one could academically observe ‘victim language’. Victim language in that context meaning that a person’s way of talking has changed to reflect that they see themselves now as a victim. This leads to other conclusions such as that everyone is wrong except for them, they are owed everything, nothing will ever get better, ect. In fact, getting caught up in this approach and these observations really does not go anywhere good – both for the service providers or for the people receiving the services. When I talk about victim language I am not talking about the people I serve – those marginalized population groups, I am talking about those who serve those same groups of people.
I am talking about the ‘helpers’ who have just enough understanding or academic learning of ‘how things work’ in the larger social systems in order to leverage their circumstances in order to benefit from it. Yes, I am talking about being deliberate, intentional, and perhaps even selfish in the strategic use of victim language. I very much doubt the people I am thinking about who practice victim language would agree at all with my observations, and I don’t expect them to either, but nonetheless it is the appearance of such behavior that makes me cringe. I don’t think their behaviors go unnoticed by others around them, as I have also observed people recognizing the benefits gained from a victim language approach and so they also attempt to emulate the same thing, often with not so successful results. After all, a fair criticism of inner-city work is that it is a billion-dollar industry, often exploiting the very people we ought to be serving in order to guarantee the next round of public funding sources.
The whole system makes me sick.
It saddens me that this is a system. I suppose, all along it has been a system – a social industry designed to bring about some sort of outcome. Whether it was the establishment of traditional soup kitchens to feed the poor, lead by some who faithfully wanted to serve the less-fortunate, and dominated by others who wanted to grab a captive audience and convert their souls, or others who leveraged their numbers in order to gain access to social money intended to participate with the feeding but instead contributed to the building of social empires. A system built upon those cast away from society, those whose lives have been ravaged by addiction, trauma, and abuse, now filling the pages of someone’s notebook to be used in various ways for the perpetuation of the system.
The entire system is not corrupt as there is probably still a majority of examples to be found of people genuinely caring for one another and are working tirelessly to provide that care. I am not even bringing criticism to those who are engaged in full-time careers in this system, myself being counted among them, being provided a living wage in order to care for one’s family, provide for one’s means, while participating in this system in hopefully meaningful ways. No, it is short-sighted of me to lump those individuals into my criticism. I am only talking about a few people, my fellow colleagues as it may, who, like myself are drawing a fair wage for the work they are doing but have found the use of victim language exceptionally helpful in order to add to their compensation.
Unfortunately, in my observations and experiences, this corruption of character is most often found under the cloak of Christianity. It seems it is easier to elicit a favorable response when one can declare that they have God on their side. To be a victim while doing the Lord’s work, seems to be the magical combination in unlocking a blind and overwhelming response of favor and participation that allows the individual utilizing such language to benefit greatly, often at no real cost to themselves. My concern around this is that once tasted it is a difficult habit to break and often the people overlook the full extent of their privileged place of power and authority that has brought about the favorable response in the first place.
In other words, only a growing corruption and selfishness will emerge from the use of the victim language, often at the pain and suffering of a great many people around them.
This is not just found in systems working with marginalized population groups – it is also found in churches with pastors facing conflict within the leadership. A pastor who utilizes the strategy of victim language can quite often find much benefit and support from a few, and if employed long enough, at the cost of many, many more. Many a church has split because, when faced with conflict, the pastor utilizes the victim language card, which garners unearned support from a few, perpetuating the existing conflict, resulting in a church split and often the financial gain of the pastor.
Take a look at the news headlines and you can see it there as well. Powerful people in powerful positions, wealthy, influential, and yet when they begin to utilize victim language there is an interesting response from people. They rally around them, they pour resources and support into them, and the cycle continues. This is especially true with the very public religious leaders who utilize victim language. The problem is none of them are truly victims. They are simply smart enough to understand the power of this type of language and how they can utilize it for their personal gain.
And it works.