We only accept two voices when it comes to societal change: that of the experts and that of the afflicted. We find minimal overlap between these two placeholders, and their experience defines the discourse between the two. We regard experts for their ability to denote a problem and (possibly) point toward a theoretical solution. They have to be an expert because they are the ones who know what is best for society: this is why we are so quick to dismiss the voices of those who suffer from a particular problem: we do not trust them.

We fail to realize that the people who suffer from a problem are often better equipped than experts to define it. They know more about what it means to be poor, disabled, or marginalized because they live it daily. If we want real change, we must listen when our neighbors tell us what will make them better off.

We exist as examples and horror stories

Despite this reality, society pigeonholes victims into their victimhood. Rarely asked their opinion on their oppression or infliction, they exist as examples and horror stories. The victim becomes the illustration. Is it assumed that the victim couldn’t possibly turn their experience into practical application? Or is it that we don’t see value in anyone who has fallen prey to unfortunate circumstances? After all, all victims in human history carry with them some guilt, some blame for their taintedness. They are victims of something, after all.

We can turn our worst moments into something

But as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, I know firsthand that the ability to turn any experience into practical application is within every human being’s capacity. We can all turn our experiences into something that can benefit others. Whether it’s a survivor who uses their pain to help other victims or an entrepreneur who turns their struggle with mental illness into a company, there are countless ways we can turn even our worst moments into something positive.

Few have overcome this gatekeeping in the world of solutions. You are the spectator, assessing, measuring, judging, or you are the one to be studied. It would be too logical to leave behind these roles and even allow them to touch. It would provide too much context. Why are pundits filling cable news hours with speculation, and the commoner is relegated to tight segments, often pre-recorded, to avoid saying the quiet part out loud? Pragmatism, science, and even philanthropy perpetuate the victimhood cycle.

We create scapegoats and villains only because we have failed

The victimhood cycle reflects our failings and failures. We create scapegoats and villains only because we have failed to ask the right questions or solve problems ourselves. Why are we repeatedly returning to the same “experts” who perpetuate the same solution? We are afraid to ask hard questions. We are scared to be wrong. We are fearful of being ostracized for asking questions and challenging norms. And so, we let others do it for us, telling us what is right or wrong, true or false.

The ultimate irony of our history is that observers write the canon while participants live in the footnotes. We accept things and do not ask questions. We expect things to be handed to us on a silver platter, requiring no effort. Then we wonder why we are so slow to change regarding revolution or evolution. Instead of questioning the status quo, we allow ourselves to be led like sheep into battle with our kind because someone else has told us who the enemy is supposed to be.

If we truly want to align the future for the greater good, we must first question how we qualify the people we entrust to provide solutions. Who should it be if we aren’t giving the victims the first chance to address societal ills? Who trumps the underdog in a world on the precipice?