Responsibility politics

By littlesweetfish No comments

Then, there was a “motivational speaker.” A 30-something-year-old British man, whose profession I can’t recall, but it could have easily been a “professional motivational speaker,” but I remember he rowed very seriously and competitively. He was over six feet, and his arms and legs were long and very straight and were attached to a very angular torso. Even his blond hair was combed squarely to his sharp-edged skull.

His talk was highly motivational, and we listened to him with bright eyes until he said at one point, “you are responsible for everything that happens to your life.” The air tensed, and a guy from Qatar uttered, “everything?” The speaker looked the inquirer in the eyes and smiled. “EVERYTHING.” Others made half-smiles out of discomfort. I was sure at least half of us were streaming difficult experiences of the past in our head, about which they told themselves, “I did my best. It wasn’t my fault.” I understand now that one is responsible for how to react to life events. But this motivational man failed to differentiate such responsibility from the self-blame. I half-listened to the man after that because My mind was still well enough to refuse the self-blame for what had happened with Mr. N.

Several months later, I was involved in a project to work with an organization providing shelter for human-trafficking victims. The victims were all young women trafficked from overseas, mainly from Africa and Eastern Europe. They were taken to the shelter as a result of the police raids. Some were brought to the UK illegally and were seeking asylum. When we were discussing how we could support them, the MBA director suggested we invite the same motivational speaker to talk to the human-trafficking victims. I looked at his excited face with disbelief. I raised my hand and said, “I’m not sure if that is a good idea. He told us we are responsible for everything that happens to us. Do you seriously want him to say that to the sex-trafficking victims?” Claudia, a classmate from Germany, nodded in agreement next to me. While acknowledging my concern, the director said, “let’s tell him to go easy on the ‘responsibility’ part!”

The incident bothered me for many years after. It was the first time in years I raised my hand and spoke up with conviction because the rest of the year at the business school, I was sure of nothing. The wrongness I felt at the time was about taking responsibility for sexual harassment/human trafficking. But as time passed, what bothered me more was WHO was telling it. White, middle/upper-class British men telling people of the rest of the socioeconomic classes, “you can get what you want if you work hard. If you don’t, that is your responsibility,” was irresponsible. Having a white man who has never been sex-trafficked telling the underprivileged sex-trafficking victims to be motivated to make a life change was just f**ed up.

Leave a Reply