Beyond Victimhood to Empowerment
By Thomas B. Cox · 3 minute read
A key part of the Best Boss Leadership Framework is a mental fitness training regimen called Positive Intelligence or PQ. This trains you to "become your best self" in terms of staying out of blame, shame, victimization, or victim thinking, and continually shifting into self-command, empathy, curiosity, creativity, decisiveness, and energetic laser-focused action.
The key to understanding the Positive Intelligence perspective (also found in the Stoics, in the work of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, and in Cognitive Behavioral Psychology) is the distinction between external circumstances and our internal response to them. The book Positive Intelligence—and these other philosophies and sciences—emphasize that while we often have little to no control over external circumstances like poverty, violence, and illness, we can learn to exert significant control over our internal experiences and reactions.
Victim-blaming is a method that bystanders use to excuse themselves from taking responsibility for their contribution to systemic problems, or to tell themselves that some other person's suffering is just or deserved (thus excusing themselves from having compassion or empathy). What Positive Intelligence says is quite the opposite: PQ seeks to empower the individual to better manage their internal responses to their external circumstances, while FULLY EMBRACING the reality of those circumstances. The aim is not to shift blame onto individuals for the difficulties they face, but to equip them with additional tools to manage their emotional, psychological, and physical responses to these challenges.
I sometimes refer people to the concept called the Stockdale Paradox -- based on a true story. The people who were best able to survive in a brutal POW camp were those who simultaneously faced unblinkingly the horrors of their daily circumstances while still having unshakable faith that they would eventually prevail.
PQ says to the suffering person, "Yes your circumstances are dire. Here's how you can best confront those circumstances."
PQ says to the bystander, "When you see suffering, the proper response is empathy and compassion." Blaming self, blaming others, or blaming circumstances are all functions of the Amygdala and the Limbic system. At best, they tell us where to pay attention; at worst, they substitute blame for proper action.
Many people have the initial reaction that, when we use PQ to focus on empowerment, we somehow deny the existence of wrongdoing or legitimately bad circumstances. That's untrue.
In reality, the PQ perspective -- which says that external circumstances are distinct from internal suffering, and that suffering is related to one's thoughts and reactions (rather than solely caused external circumstances) is echoed in several philosophical, psychological, and spiritual disciplines:
- Stoicism - A philosophy that teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions.
- Existentialism (particularly Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy) - Focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as man's search for such meaning.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - A psychotherapeutic approach that aims to improve mental health by challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors.
- Buddhism - The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism touch upon the nature of suffering and how attachment and desire contribute to it.
- Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) - These modern practices stem from Buddhist philosophy and focus on cultivating an awareness and acceptance of the present.
- Positive Psychology - While not perfectly aligned, Positive Psychology also focuses on strengths, virtues, and happiness rather than psychopathologies.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - This form of cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people how to "just notice," accept, and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) - Similar to CBT but includes concepts of mindfulness and acceptance or being aware of and attentive to the current situation and emotional state.
- Jainism and Hindu Philosophy - The ideas of "Karma" and how one's own actions contribute to their current state of being.
Sufism - The mystical Islamic belief system. Sufis focus a lot on the inner journey to find peace within, irrespective of external chaos.
What Positive Intelligence provides is a set of practices that allow one to experience life circumstances, to have compassion and empathy for oneself and others, to remain curious and open to new ways of looking at those circumstances, to be creative and innovative in devising possible responses to those circumstances, to choose wisely and decisively from those responses and commit to a course of action, and to pursue that course of action with laser focus and great energy.