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On the task of not being a victim

A friend wrote me to say, “I disagreed with a young person and she told me that I caused her even more trauma than she already experience and that I am insensitive and ignorant of her feelings.” We baby boomers hear stories like that one and have one of two reactions: Either, “Your friend s…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

A friend wrote me to say, “I disagreed with a young person and she told me that I caused her even more trauma than she already experience and that I am insensitive and ignorant of her feelings.”

We baby boomers hear stories like that one and have one of two reactions: Either, “Your friend should have been more sensitive.”

Or we think, “Poor little snowflake – yet another product of cancel culture.” 

Where did cancel culture come from? It came from people uncomfortable with the messiness of freedom. And in part it arose from the desire to protect young people. We want to protect them from what we consider to be dangerous thinking. Of course that protective instinct is a positive thing – hard-wired into parents while their young are still learning to walk and navigate this sometimes harsh planet. But it is an instinct that also needs to be modulated if our children are ever to grow up.

Terrible things often happen as children develop. As kids, we are vulnerable. Those with power can run roughshod over us. If the normal protective elements of a close family (and especially a vigilant and thoughtful mother) are not in place, then flinching and hiding can become a habit.

And moving from that place of continually feeling vulnerable to one where we are self-sufficient and whole usually involves a precarious journey of exposure to increasing levels of risk.

I remember at age 10 complaining to my parents about a bully in the neighborhood. Their response was not to protect me, but to help me think through how I would navigate a world where bullies show up.

This strategy was empowering. I learned that my parents were not going to protect me in life. That was not their job! They had helped me survive childhood, but they knew I’d need to learn new skills as an adult.

So many kids don’t have parents who have the skill to protect their children just enough for them to develop what psychologists call agency – that capacity to make choices for themselves.

Either their kids are exposed too early to the harsh Darwinian life outside their home and feel traumatized, or on the other end of the spectrum, they may be overprotected by a helicopter mom who sees the potential for pain and serves as an ever-present security detail pushing challenges of every kind out of the way.

Both strategies lead to vulnerable children becoming immature, poorly developed adults. Lean too far one direction and you have the emotionally shut down life of a survivor.

Or lean the other direction and you populate the world with victims looking for someone to protect them. You fill the economy with lawyers looking to fill that role and a nanny state run by politicians catering to that dysfunction.

The founder of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid, was asked about the future of his country, and he replied, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son rides a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to ride a Land Rover, but my great-grandson is going to have to ride a camel again.”
Why is that? He was asked.
And his reply was, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men, weak men create difficult times.”

Comments (13)

  • I see cancel culture as having come from the desire to not honor people and groups who have treated people groups or individuals with disregard or contempt. Of course we cannot protect our children from all bullies, but we don’t need to honor or celebrate them.

  • Seth! We are reading this on our way home from Costa Brava with our three youngest in the car. This is good and so profoundly and simply true. Tom and I are always trying to find the balance of extremes. We are on the strong side and so don’t want to weaken our kids! But in some ways we have and it has hurt them. Conversely, the hard times have forged them in ways they are always proud of. So much of this is choosing the long term over the short. Thanks for writing this! Love the Dubai story.

  • Excellent article. As a retired teacher, I see the victim story often created by parents who believe their child deserves better grades when they didn’t earn them. Parents demanded their child retake a failed test but they didn’t prepare the first time; so it was a “No” from me.

  • Seth, this is terrific. I suppose that one of our top jobs as parents is to foster our children’s love for the Lord with all their hearts, minds, souls and strengths, and their love for their neighbors as themselves. Part of who God is, and who we are to love, is pain. One time one of my high school aged kids was mistreated by a coach. I got involved. Later, when I was quiet about it and reflected on it, I realized I had come between my son and the Lord. I apologized. I sensed God say to me, “I forgive you. You did it because you love your boy.” I asked, “How do I handle this going forward?” He said, “Love me more.”

  • You have given your kids such a heritage by taking them with you to Spain. I see their resilience and lack of fear. They are all leaders.

    On this topic of giving kids resilience thru travel, I’m listening to a book you would like, “Cocktails Under The Tree of Forgetfulness.” Highly recommend it.

  • This is a great analysis of the hidden dangers of cancel culture with examples to help teach children overcome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and personal experience on the subject. Great article, Seth…

  • Totally agree! Great quote. But the question becomes, how do strong men reproduce strong men? The balance is key and asking Holy Spirit when and how.

  • Our Easter dinner included a new friend – a woman approaching 80 who had gone through pretty horrific times as a foster child from birth into her early adult years. Told by a religious body to stop pursuing her attempt to connect with her birth mother. Horribly abused in a foster home. Not denying pain today, but having lived a positive life. When I asked her how she negotiated life as she had, her answer was simple: “I decided I would not be a victim.” Not a universal answer by any means but a clear message from a very kind woman.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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