The Minnesota Humanities Center has given Minnesota Veterans a profound gift—four in fact. Through the Veterans’ Voices program, I have received four life-giving gifts including: acceptance, self-awareness, hope for civility, and a desire to see more Veterans leverage their pain in order to flourish more as human beings. Allow me to elaborate briefly:
- Stereotypes about Veterans are being challenged. Consequently I feel accepted on a deeper level. Veterans who feel lumped together and accepted by society find it difficult to flourish after military service. Of course, this is not unique to Veterans. Human beings seem hard-wired with a need to be accurately known and generously accepted—or, if not accepted, at least valued. If the gift of acceptance and/or the value of Veterans as individual people continues to play out on a broader scale, Veterans will contribute more to human flourishing. Why is that the case? They will start to flourish themselves, and are we or are we not people who have been trained to lead in the worst conditions imaginable? Accepted and secure individual leaders who have been trained to navigate unknowns and adversity will be a game-changer in our present culture.
- Veterans are being invited to share our stories and reflect carefully on our past—resulting in greater self-awareness. This is a gift that keeps on giving to the Veteran and society. I sense that Veterans who lack self-awareness are perhaps more at risk of simply blending into the background than many others in society—we were trained to blend in by the way; note the uniform. Self-awareness comes, in large part, when we are invited to share our true stories with others. This endeavor is pushing individual Veterans to courageously articulate and live out their unique vocation and identity based on their unique past and that, I suspect, will only help our society and fellow human beings. Why? Consider this: Innovation, lasting solutions, timely progress, and saving partnerships all seem to require some of the same ingredients. Among those common ingredients appears to be—self-aware and resilient people.
- The initiative has reminded me that many people do, in fact, have an innate longing to relate with civility and warmth amidst diversity. This is a true gift to anyone who has witnessed the prolonged and radical absence of civility. Some of the people who witness that professionally are called ‘members of the military.’ What they witness is called war. Prideful cynicism is a common side affect of prolonged exposure to a lack of civility and warmth—at least that is what my heart, therapist, and experience tells me. As a coping mechanism, cynical disbelief and apathy towards the common good is a dependable way of regulating painful memories and internal hurts. Yet cynical apathy towards the possibility of a more civil and warm society will certainly produce some kind of result of which I cannot pretend to know. What I do know, however, is that cynical and apathetic Veterans will certainly not help to produce a warm and civil society.
- The initiative has urged me not to waste the painful parts of my story by either underplaying them or overplaying them. Something strange happens when you are out of the military for a few years and suddenly find yourself honored among Vets of multiple eras. You notice the universal tendency to feel awkward in relaying your painful experiences. I’ve watched Veterans who I deployed with to the same combat zone exaggerate about the chaos and carnage they witnessed. I think they believed every word they spoke. I’ve also watched soldiers and Military families, who I know well, completely underplay the chaos and the carnage of what I know they experienced. Why is this so common? As humans we seem almost universally uncertain when it comes to knowing what we are to do with the most painful parts of our story. The process of accepting the Veterans Voices Award this year has pushed me to consider that perhaps I am to accurately recognize my painful chapters in the military and then promptly leverage them for the common good of humanity. This is a gift indeed. This world needs less under and over-playing of Military trauma and much, much, more leveraging of that trauma for the flourishing of all people. Consider that the greatest pains in all of our life may be uniquely designed to serve as the launch-pad of our greatest contributions to the common good of all people.