Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Newsletter: A Victimless Life

Jul 1, 2009 5:21:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

There is a big gap between supporting the displaced and poor and enabling people who view themselves as victims.  Our goal is the former and we avoid where possible the latter. [more]

After defeating the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, Oliver Hazard (love that name) Perry sent his general the now famous message: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

Some 150 years later, the message was rephrased in a political satire cartoon (Pogo) as: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

My Mom loved the humor of that line and I appreciate its meaning more every day.

The first forty-plus years of my life were spent looking for the enemy - the person who was causing my life's woes.

The last few, I have been dealing with the culprit - me.

Like most, I have fallen prey to the temptation of deciding that bad things are caused by others. When driving, for example, I still often fall into believing there's a conspiracy of other drivers out to ruin my day. I'm their victim. I didn't do anything wrong - "they" are "out to get me."

For bad days or failed projects, even failed relationships, it was the same for me. I analyzed the motives and actions of every other party involved to find the culprit. Who caused this day/project/relationship to fail? Certainly it wasn't me... I tried my best... my motives were pure.

Of course, that is just not so. I realize now that 99% of the time by seeing the situation as a "victim" I tended to downplay or even ignore my own role in the failures. I built my "story" around others - the failure's leading characters.

What was worse, I see now, is that this behavior became a pattern.

Perpetual victimhood is particularly attractive in our media-starved, litigious American society because we create so many opportunities for professional victims.

Pete Rose makes huge appearance fees because he was "denied" entry into baseball's Hall of Fame. He plays up his victimhood to millions who are able to overlook the fact that he bet on games he was managing.

Stella Liebeck received $640,000 in a lawsuit that proved her 49 cent cup of McDonald's coffee was too hot.

So, on some level, victimhood seems attractive.

This article would be titled "No longer a victim" if it was just about my decision to no longer be a victim. But because this is about the business of good, my point is more than that.

My point is that I'm also now working to avoid all perpetual victims in my life.

In a life dedicated to serving the very poor, that's not easy, particularly in our work here in the USA where it seems our system "creates" victims.

It's a very controversial issue - one that usually falls into a political debate labeled as "conservative" vs. "liberal." The liberal label says "government giveaway" and the conservative label says "poor people are lazy."

I've never viewed things either way.

My view is that every one of God's children deserves opportunities, regardless of our past indiscretions. And the least helpful thing we can do for someone is judge them.

But in our foundation work, we also must be careful to help as many as our resources will allow, so we must be discerning in some manner.

Years ago, I was enchanted by a recently immigrated African family who lived in our transition house then attended our inner city church. They presented themselves well, went to school and went to church each Sunday but, according to the stories told me by the father, were constant victims of specific barriers of American society.

I fell hard, providing substantial time and money to this family for over two years until I became aware that there was both illegal activity and domestic violence present in their household.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This experience caused me not to judge - heck, I wish the African family well, their choices led to mine - but instead to become more structured on "who and how" we support people. The primary change is that I now use our board to help judge if we are dealing with a victim of circumstance or a perpetual victim.

And so I seek:

  1. That I will no longer BE a victim
  2. That our foundation will serve as few "perpetual victims" as possible.
  3. That we will continue to create opportunities for the very poor who can see them as just that - opportunities to create a better life for themselves.

So, in summary, my goal is to lead a victimless life.

Tags: Monthly Newsletter, Personal Well-Being, Communication & Relationships, Organizational & Operational Excellence

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy