This year, I had the wonderful pleasure of being invited to a Passover Seder hosted by social justice intellectuals. Together with their friends, all equally astonishing, they created an atmosphere of thoughtful reflection.
Passover is about coming out of slavery into freedom. As a result, much of the holiday focuses on i remembering that we were slaves.
The host of the Seder wisely expressed some concern that this focus on victimhood created some separation. I agreed and suggested, as a solution, that we all remember ourselves as victims as well as perpetrators. To be a part of the long stream of humanity means being on both sides.
Sure, my grandfather fled anti-Semitic Poland, but his family also ostracized a sister who married a Christian. She and her husband fled to France where she was subsequently shot in Marseilles for being Jewish.
Maybe your grandmother was a victim, but maybe your grandmother's grandmother told the authorities the hot redhead down the street was a witch -- and she was burned at the stake, or maybe she killed someone with a kitchen knife, believed in racial superiority, or stole someone's husband. Ain't no "pure" family line.
If you believe that the soul returns...that you have been here before...then you can imagine that you were likely tortured and the torturer. If we have been here more than once, then at one point we probably clobbered a few people to death during the Middle Ages or during some other time.
Even if you do not believe we have been here before, the acceptance that we have all played every role provides a much better standing point for addressing conflict.
The biggest danger of sitting comfortably in a victim narrative, is that we assume victims can do no wrong. Victims can hurt people and can become perpetrators...the opposite can also be true.
This is partially what makes being a victim such a coveted position. It can be used to justify extreme responses. Interrupting cycles of violence, however, means letting go of that buoy. Goodness is not determined by the size of our victimhood story, but the strength of our character and actions...now.
REMEMBER is an astonishing film that addresses some of these themes. Blurring the lines between victims and perpetrators is not comfortable. This is why we love our super hero movies and our Star Wars. We like good and evil clearly delineated. If we continue to play out the drama of good and evil, we'll likely just remain in this violent swirl.
Something to think about...
Note: I continue to write and speak about how we socially construct "ideal victims" and "ideal perpetrators." I spoke this week at the History & Memory conference at George Mason University and will speak again at the Law & Society conference in New Orleans this June. Publication pending.