Wounded – or Victim?

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.

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

4 thoughts on “Wounded – or Victim?”

  1. Paul, I agree with you regarding the perpetual victimhood that can be so damaging to how one lives their life. I do think the word victim is still important in identifying those who have been a victim of abuse or a crime. It isn’t an identity, but the word has its role to play in calling out the abuse of others. It might especially be helpful in talking about those who couldn’t defend themselves. I think of the girls who were abused by Larry Nassar or the children by the Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. They’ve been wounded in a way that is far greater than I ever have. Maybe there is a way to still use the word responsibly without encouraging a perpetual victim mentality. Just thinking “out loud” a bit about this.

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    1. I agree completely, David – and I don’t want to give the impression that the word *victim* is illegitimate in many situations. It is one of those vagaries of the English language – as a word is changing meaning (or acquiring a secondary connotation) the original meaning still hold true. We can see how, eventually, the word no longer hold that first meaning – and I am thinking of the word “gay.” It no longer is understood to mean happy, carefree, joyful. I hope “victim” never loses its most powerful meaning, but when *everyone* becomes a victim, and claims special status due to that victimhood, then the word loses its force – just as everyone cannot be brilliant, or exceptional.

      Your example is poignant – those girls and children were deeply wounded – and victims – of horrendous crimes. I sincerely doubt, however, that poor little Donald Trump is a victim of anything, except maybe his own arrogance, and to hear Republicans complain about their poor leader being victimized by a special counsel is just repugnant to me. To equate Trump with what those young people experienced is simply to eviscerate the meaning of the word.

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      1. Absolutely, I hadn’t heard that people were using that word for Trump. That’s absurd! I enjoy reading your thoughts. I don’t read every one, but now that I am back in the blogging world, I’ll try to be a more regular reader. Thanks for sharing!

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      2. Hard core Trumpiacs are a unique breed, although no different than Hillary’s claim of being a victim of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” I guess there is something about politics that automatically exposes you to becoming a victim. I thought about making a big deal of my victimhood of “old age-ism,” but then if I take advantage of the senior discounts at my favorite restaurant, it kind of makes me a hypocrite! 🙂

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