Thursday, October 13, 2016

Blake Rondeau - Community of Conversation: Civilian and Military Engagement

Blake Rondeau is a Marine Corps Veteran who works at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. He is the Marketing Director for the Minnesota Warriors, a disabled Veteran hockey team. As a member of the Veterans Mental Health Advisory Council for the VA Medical Hospital, he is dedicated to finding and fixing the problems between Veterans and health care. Blake is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Health Care Communication and is a discussion leader for the Humanities Center’s Echoes of War public discussion events at Carleton College in October.

Recently I was sitting in a small group circle meeting with a couple of young Veterans, and we were sharing stories of trials we were dealing with in the civilian world. One of the quieter Vets said, “They [civilians] just don’t understand what I’m going through.” This is a sentiment that I hear a lot from Veterans, and have felt it myself.

So I asked, “Have you told them how you are feeling?”

A question I would never have asked before. A question that may have been a little rude—too daunting to do it myself, so why ask it of him? When he replied that he hadn’t, I asked another question that surprised him and me, “Have you ever asked how they are feeling?”

A few weeks ago I participated in the Humanities Center’s Echoes of War discussion leader training where we focused on a number of things; one that struck me was the idea that knowledge and learning can come from anywhere, if we let it. The discussion leaders and Humanities Center staff encouraged civilian participation and ensured that everyone’s voice needed to be heard.

On the first day I found myself scared, trapped in a room with strangers that would be dissecting me. Perhaps many Veterans have felt this way. But in the span of a week I learned from Veterans and civilians alike by listening and asking what their thoughts were. By creating a dialogue between all of us we were able to relate to one another’s experiences and find similarities: A driving force to help build up a community instead of separating it.

I shared my stories and shed some tears throughout the week. Often times these actions can be seen as a sign of weakness, but leaving the Humanities Center at the end of the week I left supported by new friends, new views, and a new community.

Armed with those experiences and living proof that the Humanities Center’s way of teaching worked, I sat in that small group and asked those questions. I wanted to push back, put the onus back on the Veteran, back on all of us, wanted to see where the conversation would go.

We cannot fear to speak to one another or to learn from one another.

I implore all those who feel the way the ‘quiet’ Veteran did or, if you are someone who doesn’t know how to start a conversation, just ask. If they say no, respect that. If they say yes, take the time to engage. We are all human and have good and bad days but if we, as humans, take the time to listen rather than be discouraged, we can find ourselves living in a truly engaged society.

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