The Sunday Times Magazine: Calm down, dears! Everyone’s a victim of something these days — it’s time we toughened up

glass_w_1197315kI knew little about Terry Waite before l interviewed him. But after doing my research, I was blown away.

Many of you will know he was a hostage negotiator in the 1980s. An aide to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was taken hostage himself in Beirut for 1,763 days. Almost five years. He spent most of it in isolation, chained, blindfolded, with no stimulation — not even natural light.

There is a video of him on the tarmac at Heathrow, after he was released in 1991. He’s telling jokes. Laughing about how he was freed without shoes, so had to ask the RAF, which had transported him, for some size 14s. “They called the navy and got two barges!” he cackles.

Waite’s attitude during his captivity, and since, is: “No regrets, no self-pity, no sentimentality.” I love the way he maintained his sense of humour, self-control and understanding, even during his darkest moments. It made me think how rare those qualities have become.

Now we live in a different era, one that instead of fostering a culture of survival seems to celebrate victimhood — in which people are encouraged to cling to every perceived injustice, keen to claim that they are oppressed.

Sometimes it feels like a race to the bottom, in which oversensitivity and intolerance cause people to celebrate adversity, even seek it. So every gender disparity is “sexism”. Every social mishap is harassment. Every disagreement is hate speech or a “phobia”. And everywhere that isn’t a “safe space”, a potential threat.

You can claim to be a victim of almost anything now: your gender, your class, your race, your choices, beauty norms, heteronormativity. Charlotte Proudman, the barrister who was complimented by a male solicitor on LinkedIn for her looks, became a “victim” of being called good-looking.



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