Leonard M. Goldstein, LLC  close


I know this is an odd pairing of concepts, but please bear with me for a couple of paragraphs. The two concepts are paired based on two personal experiences one recent one ancient, and the recent caterwauling amongst our politicians.

Honesty has at least two perspectives: first, being honest with yourself and second, being honest with others. So, the most recent event was on a trip to Montreal. On the first night, after a long flight, Martha and I went to a bar with our traveling mates. After a few, I paid the bill and we retired to our hotel which was 100 feet away. When we got to the room, I realized I was no longer in possession of my wallet containing IDs and credit cards. Running back to the bar, my wallet was nowhere to be found. The night hotel manager told me the people of Montreal were very honest, and they would turn it in. I cancelled my credit cards and mentally moved on and did not engage in victimhood. To make a long paragraph shorter, 7 days later I received a call from a bartender in a bar in Montreal who had found my wallet in his cash register. The bar was about ten blocks away from both the hotel and the original bar. The honest people of Montreal came through for me; wallet, credit card, IDs were all intact. Despite all the horror stories we get on nightly news, honesty survives.

The second ancient event occurred when I was 17. I was invited to a party by a very interesting young lady who lived in a toney gated community not far from my hometown. The gated community was rumored to discriminate against all minorities including Jews. When I arrived at the gate and announced to the guard my name and hostess, the guard refused my entry saying there must have been a mistake since the hostess would never invite my "kind" to her house. When I told the story to my father, he told me I had choices: I could forget the incident; I could adopt the role of a victim; or I could do something about it. A wise person always presents at least three options to a person who must make a choice. I will get to my choice soon.

The political theater or spectacle to which we are daily exposed seems to me to take victimhood to an extraordinary level. As New York Times Columnist David Brooks writes, "The point of spectacle is not to resolve differences; it is to attract attention. In spectacle you thrive by offending people. Narcissism is rewarded, humility is forbidden. Inflaming hatred is part of the business plan" and I would submit, reinforces victimhood. The psychologist Rahav Gabay in her studies defines interpersonal victimhood as a feeling that the self (or group) is a victim; this becomes a central part of the individual's or group's identity. Itis a feeling that one's life is entirely under the control of forces outside one's control such as fate, luck or the mercy of others. Victimhood can develop with or without experiencing severe trauma or victimization.

Based on clinical observations and research, Gabay found that victimhood consists of four main dimensions:

  1. Constantly seeking recognition for victimhood, a high need to have their suffering acknowledged.
  2. Moral elitism, a self-perception of immaculate morality and the view that everyone else as being immoral.
  3. Lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others, because they are so preoccupied with their own victimhood, they are oblivious to the pain or discomfort or others.
  4. Frequently ruminating about past incidents of victimization.

At both the interpersonal and group level, there is an effort to maintain a positive moral self-image and perceive the offenders' motivations as arbitrary senseless or immoral. Offenders tend to downplay the severity of the offense.

The Washington DC culture has emerged a victimhood culture. All four of the elements mentioned are present and they are amplified by the ever-present 24-hour news cycle. Moral elitism is the generator of widely broadcast political theater that focuses on tit-for-tat activities. The concept of trying to find a solution is absent. If you perceive yourself to be a victim, are you being honest with yourself let alone others? Victimhood insulates you from being honest with others. In my humble opinion, politicians from both sides of the aisle are not being honest with themselves or the American people. I hope the people of Montreal are not reading this.

Back to the choices my father proposed. The day after the incident at the gate I called the girl and told her what happened. She said she would talk to her father and get back to me. I never heard from her. I choose my father's first two choices: I vowed to never see myself as a victim; second, to do something about it I became a lawyer. The challenges of doing something about bigotry are nowhere near over.