17 05 2013

The torments of martyrdom are probably most keenly felt by the bystanders. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was talking to a friend yesterday and we got into a discussion of martyrs.  Not the religious kind, the ones who suffered and died for their core beliefs.  We talked about the everyday kind, the ones we marry or work with.

The idea of martyrdom is fairly potent, carrying as it does the connotations of nobility and firmness of conviction.  And I think for those who display this particular behavior, those images have taken root in their mind.  That there is nobility in how they are acting, and also that there’s no other choice because of the strength of their core beliefs.

Perhaps the second part is true.  Perhaps those core beliefs are just that strong.  But there is no nobility in continuing in behaviors that damage the other people in your life.  My friend and I have both dealt with martyrs in our lives.  For both of us, the initial response is exactly what the martyr wants – we are impressed by their conviction, their sacrifice/suffering for what appears to be a higher cause.

But then, somewhere down the line, we start to look at the martyr’s continuing choices to suffer, and we begin to doubt.  The suffering seems not so much an outcome as an active choice that the martyr makes.  And there are immediate rewards for it: “He works so hard”…”She gives up everything for those kids”.  Martyrs hear the sweet words that tell them how good they are.  It’s not surprising that they continue in those behaviors.

If the martyr suffered alone, it would be okay.  But the truth is that the suffering extends to the people closest in their lives.  If you love a martyr, you will find yourself on the sacrificial altar with everything else.  You are not exempt from someone else’s choice to suffer.  You can consciously step back from the drama – and for a real martyr, you can then be added to the list of things they have sacrificed for the higher cause.

Every one of us has the potential to be a martyr.  I have been watching for it in myself for the last few months, and in truth the month of May has been a real bugger.  I’ve gotten nailed hard for some choices this month, and for some things that are just flat out of my control.  It is so seductive to embrace the idea that suffering and hard times are some kind of moral indicator.  So I need to constantly remind myself that my choices are in fact mine – meaning that the outcome is mine as well.

And for the things that are out of my control?  I live through them, and remind myself that what’s happening now doesn’t prove anything about how good or noble I am.





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