When I worked at Store of Knowledge, one of the women in my departent had printed out and stuck to the wall of her cubicle the phrase, “I am not a victim.” At the time, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it – was it her woman’s roar? Had she, in fact, been a victim and was trying to get past it? I never asked her about it and never found out, but it stuck with me.

I think I know what it means now, at least to me. It’s a reminder to be civil.

It strikes me that people are full-time victims. In all of their relationships, personal and public, they are constantly monitoring for infringement – for invasions of their space and rights. They are experts in the law and practice of just what their rights are, and where the boundaries of their space lie. When someone violates these accepted boundaries – cuts them off in traffic, steps on their turf, refers to them in a way that might somehow construed to be an insult – accident or otherwise – they take the full legal recourse.

When I say “they” and “people”, I mean “we” and “me”. I am not a victim, but I play one in real life.

While all of this is bad enough, we are not only full-time victims, we are professionals. We create situations where people can infringe. We look for litigiable circumstances. We trap people in conversations where in order to tell us the truth, they must offend. We monitor our borders not because we are so worried about personal loss, but because we enjoy the righteous anger of the violated, and the sympathy it generates. We are taught to do this.

I blame television for this. Or rather, I would blame television, but blame seems a symptom of a victim culture. Far better is to say that a way to alleviate the problem might be to be wary of victimization on television and in movies. Victims are heroes when they are not victims – when they refuse to let their aggressors demoralize them. Petty retribution for minor offenses is not a virtue. Accidents happen. Intentional violations are opportunities for forgiveness.

When I think, I am not a victim, this is what I’m trying to remind myself.