Victor or Victim?


…there isn’t a way it is or a way it isn’t.  There is the way we choose to act and what we choose to make of circumstances. – Lynne Twist; The Soul of Money

I’ve started to notice something recently.

Maybe it’s the on-going economic slump, the onset of a cold and dark winter, or just general anxiety around paying for the orgy of spending that has become synonymous with Christmas.  Whatever the cause, it seems to me that there has been a significant up-tick in the amount of rhetoric about income inequality and the plight of the “little guy” in North America today.

While I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor do I even completely understand all of the issues facing the middle and lower classes, I do know one thing – living your life like a Victim will almost never lead to Victory.

This week I started reading a fascinating book called “The Soul of Money” by Lynne Twist.  I’m only a couple of chapters in but so far the author, a veteran social activist and fundraiser for a number of international organizations including The Hunger Project, has painted a compelling vision of a world in which our mindset of scarcity and competition is replaced with a belief that we already have enough and it is not only desirable but eminently possible to build a society based on equality and co-operation rather than competition.

It was with that idea in my mind that I read this entry in the column Ellie Advice in the Toronto Star.

Don’t be ashamed of Poverty

Now some of Ellie’s advice is dubious at best, in the same column she counsels a man to seek a divorce if his wife doesn’t come clean about some “extra-curricular” activities and tells a young woman that a fling she had on a cruise ship while involved in a serious relationship back home is no big deal.  In both cases, BAD ADVICE that will cause heartache down the road, guaranteed!  But the plight of the first woman is all too common and the advice given is profound.

Student loan debt, under-employment, little to no savings and a history of hand to mouth living is the story of most-lower middle class families in North America today.  They have been called the working poor, making just enough money to get by but not enough to get ahead and save for the future.  And the questions this woman asks point to a deeper, unspoken issue that could keep her there for at least another generation.  She has a victim mentality.

Twist calls it the Myth of That’s Just the Way It Is and argues that by living our lives with this myth playing over and over again in our heads we are doomed to stay stuck in the world we’ve accepted and created for ourselves.

I grew up with a version of this myth replayed every month from my own mother.  She was a stay at home mom and she handled all of the family money.  Every month she pulled out a large ledger book and sat down at the kitchen table with the bank statement and all of the bills.  By the time I was in high-school I knew about every bill we had and that on top of things like heat and hydro we also had 5 credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Esso, Sears and Canadian Tire) a mortgage, line of credit and over-draft protection.  At various times along the way we also had leans against one or two cars and personal loans from family.

As I got older I would ask about the monthly budgeting process, how did she decide when and how much to pay on each bill?  Did the interest rates influence her purchasing decisions?  When do you think we can get a new TV?  I would often hear her respond and comment that no matter what we did, we would always be in debt.  It wasn’t until much later in life, after I struggled with my own debt that I realized how this myth had damaged my relationship with money and life.

“That’s Just the Way It Is”, kills people’s dreams before they even have a chance to take root.  In the case of our women in the advice column, it is stunting her chance at a happy life with a man who clearly loves her.  The first step to becoming a Victor is recognizing that you are a Victim of your own making.   It wasn’t until I recognized how the script my mother had played had caused me to fall into a toxic relationship with debt that I was able to say “no more” and start playing the game from a new paradigm, the paradigm of a victor.

I am happy to say that after a lot of hard work my mother’s myth has been debunked and re-scripted.  I now know that is it possible to get out of debt, I have been living it for nearly 5 years.

What money myth are you living?

Are you a Victor, or a Victim?

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