The Kinship of Victimhood
Have you ever stepped back and reflected on the tone and quality of the conversations you have with coworkers, friends, or family members?
A few years ago (pre-pandemic), I (David) was waiting in line to board a plane and overheard two people complaining about “this person and that manager.” They obviously worked together and had plenty of complaints about co-workers and second-guessing leadership decisions.
It is amazing how much time and effort goes into talking about what is wrong with this, or what we don’t like about that.
We call such interactions the “Kinship of Victimhood.” One definition of kinship is a “relationship through common characteristics or a common origin.” It is all too easy for us to reinforce complaints we hear from others and collude with them in “ain’t it awful” discussions. Often, we are unconscious of our need to build relationships on common ground, even if it means joining the Victim pity party.
The flight I was on was a short commuter jet flight into Chicago’s O’Hare airport and was sitting in the second row. In the first row were a pilot and flight attendant from another airline. The two flight attendants and the pilot proceeded to enter into a conversation in which they moved from one complaint story to another as they shared their opinions of unruly passengers, gate agents, air traffic controllers, and the overall state of the industry. Each story seemed to “one-up” the previous tale.
In addition, the working flight attendant devoted his entire time and energy to the back-and-forth interchange and never focused on the passengers he was there to serve. Granted, it was a short flight, but his inattention illustrates how the kinship of victimhood can take over a person’s focus, time, and attention and divert it away from customers, clients, coworkers, and other stakeholders.
It was then that the idea of the kinship of victimhood occurred to me.
Let’s face it: we have all participated in such conversations. We all grumble from time to time, whether it is about COVID, the weather, the traffic, a computer glitch, or a slow checkout line. Our modern world is full of subjects we can complain about.
This kind of kinship can serve a purpose, at times. It is a way of connecting, a way of relating, and sometimes, a way of coping. We see the positive side of the kinship of victimhood when we read or hear about neighbors coming together in times of disaster or threat. Sharing their feelings of victimization and their stories of tragedy and trials can help people heal from their trauma.
However, if this is the only way we relate to our life experience, over time it will reinforce our sense of victimhood—as a role and way of being—by heightening the focus on the victimizing experience and perpetuating the problem-focused Victim Orientation.
These days you may often feel like a Victim to the many troublesome challenges facing the world. Notice when you may be tempted to be drawn into the kinship of victimhood.
When you hear another complaining, avoid the kinship by:
- Acknowledging the emotion behind their complaint (“I hear you are really frustrated.”) and then,
- Step into the Coach role of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) by asking a question about how they might choose to respond to the situation. For instance, “What is one thing you can do with your frustration that would make a positive difference?”
Rather than being triggered by others who complain, choose to buffer yourself and build more resourceful, resilient, and empowered relationships. Together, we can cultivate a Kinship of Creators!