It is funny (not comical, but strange) how the meanings of words change. Generally it takes many years, although sometimes it can happen relatively quickly. I consider myself somewhat of a lover of words, and my work depends on the proper use of words, so when words change meaning I take notice.
One word that is in the process of changing, although probably has not completed the change, is the word victim. Primarily the word means that someone is the unintended, and innocent, recipient of an unwanted and detrimental event. That even can be caused by nature (tornado, hurricane, flood, fire) or it can me man-made (theft, violence). In this “pure” sense, a person is victimized – becomes a victim – completely against his or her will, and although they will forever remain scarred by this event, they work diligently to overcome its effects.
Increasingly, however, the word victim has acquired a new meaning, one that is sought after, cherished, and valued. Victimhood, once avoided, has now become a prize to be won. People now glory in their victimhood – they are “victims” of racism, of homophobia, of classism, of genderism. Once a person can claim the status of victim, that badge is worn proudly, as it is believed that declaration protects said individual from any possible responsibility for their actions. Once you have been declared a victim, either by society or by yourself, you have been exonerated from any and all culpability or liability regarding anything you say or do.
Let me say this to make myself perfectly clear: we are all wounded. To be alive means that we have been hurt. We have been wounded by our parents (no human parent has ever been, or will ever be, perfect), by our friends, by our school system, by our churches. You cannot exist and say that you have not been wounded.
By the same token, we all wound others. We wound our spouses, we wound our children, we wound our friends, we wound our co-workers, we wound our fellow church members. To be alive means that we make mistakes, we fail – and in so doing we hurt, we wound, others.
Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite Catholic authors, wrote a short book he entitled, The Wounded Healer. I love that book, and re-read it often. It reminds me that I am wounded, that I wound others, and that if I am called to be a healer of wounded people, I must admit to both of those facts.
But, and here is where the changing meaning of the word “victim” comes into play. I refuse to remain a victim. I have been wounded, yes. I did not want, nor did I enjoy, the wounds. Wounds hurt – and many leave scars. But, contrary to the newly acquired meaning of the word, I refuse to bask and to glory in my woundedness. Being wounded does not give me any special privileges, it does not give me absolution from my sins. In fact, many of my wounds are self-inflicted, and for those wounds I must bear total responsibility.
If you are reading this you have been wounded. In one sense we are all victims – but I pray that we as disciples of Christ never fall into the temptation of becoming perpetual, and professional, victims.
Let us all ascend by climbing lower.