Saturday, April 11, 2009

After Further Consideration

This is not so much an independent post as it is an addendum to last week’s “We Needn’t a Parade,” in which I strove to separate the politics and public opinion of a war from the character and service of the individual veteran. Though it was seen regularly and brutally during the Vietnam War, and thankfully has greatly diminished since then, there are still a number of returning veterans who are inundated with political opinions, personal attacks, and a broad array of discourteous treatment. Yet in considering the matter further, there may be more at play than strong political opinions and a gross lack of manners. While these attitudes may fuel some of the negativity, perhaps other factors are influencing their behavior.

There have been times in my life when I have been fairly insecure, and being around somebody who is supposedly a peer (in age and perhaps economic standing), but clearly far smarter than me has caused one of three things to transpire. I may (rarely) concede their knowledge on a subject and try to learn something from them. This would be the smartest thing to do. More commonly, however, I will either “come up” to their level and attempt to hold an intelligent conversation, or simply question or naysay the subject of their expertise. This is clearly rude, unnecessary, and an overt indication of my own immaturity, but I have done it nevertheless. Though I should be thoroughly used to people smarter than me by now, I don’t particularly relish the feeling. It’s humbling. Thus, I try to either feel smarter or make them feel stupider. It is a proactive (and wrong) means by which to boost my own self-esteem. I am not advocating or attempting to excuse my behavior. It is out of line.

But more than intimidation in the presence of superior intellect, I have this problem in the face of superior character. I am quite uncomfortable around those that have demonstrated (or I can simply tell) have higher character than I. It is intimidating, awkward, and I will take measures to ease my discomfort. Pride prevents me from either leaving (since it too closely resembles flight) or acknowledging that I am in the presence of someone deserving of respect. Once again, I strike back in my own insecurity. When moderately “threatened,” I simply talk about my own experiences to present a subtle case for my own noteworthy character. These efforts fail abysmally, however, as they politely listen and say little. I may then move to a more direct attack, where I make every effort to berate their character in the hopes of somehow elevating my own.

Logically, this is flawed, since good argument at best involves a very modest rebuttal for the “other guy’s” argument, and then much greater attention devoted to reinforcing my own position. Negating his character does NOTHING to advance my own. Similarly, it is morally wrong, since it indicates a dissatisfaction with self, an intimidation with others, and a general insecurity with my own character and perhaps even existence. I would be better served to address that, NOT attempt bring others down to below my own character.

Curiously, I have even found myself doing this a few times with veterans whose service and valor far exceeded mine. I have, in this way, ignored the brotherhood of which we are all members. My insecurity is so overwhelmingly powerful around men and women of good character that I cast courtesy, honor, and respect to the wind and just try to get ahead. In truth, it’s dishonoring – to myself and to them.

If I am capable of doing this, and I am supposedly among the same honored ranks as other veterans, then I am certain it can come from civilians who find the character of a warrior to be unsettling. What they do not understand, they either flee from or attack. What they fear, too, they will attack. It makes them feel better. Could it be possible that much of the negativity that veterans receive upon their return home is more caused by the discomfort of people being in the presence of a selfless hero, a warrior, and a patriot than by differing political opinions? I would submit a resounding yes to this. None of us like feeling little, or lesser, and we certainly no not relish rendering any respect to those whose character far exceeds our own. When in the light, darkness has the choice to either retreat further into the shadows or directly attack the light. We so often choose the latter.

I believe the correct action (for me and others) to take when in the presence of superior character is to yield to them, to extend the honor he or she deserves, and step aside in admiration. This attitude towards veterans actually is itself a demonstration of higher character. What is so beautiful, though, is this: these are the warriors who think of OTHERS above themselves. These are men and women who took an oath to defend the rights and safety of strangers. They will not step through s or over us. They will courteously step around us with a smile. It is their character, and it is far greater than ours. If only we could summon the appropriately humble attitude, the welcome home for veterans would be truly magnificent. No Vietnam veteran would be able to recount the number of times he was spit upon. No grieving family would endure a ring of protestors at their son or daughter’s military funeral. No veteran would wonder why his country appears to hate him so passionately. And no citizen would fear those who purchased this country with sweat, sacrifice, and blood. There would only be universal gratitude; from the hero for the warm welcome, and from the citizen for their honorable service.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. I think there is a large silent majority of citizens out there who hesitate to extend a warm thank you to a veteran. Either they are in awe of their service and shy or they do not know how to express their appreciation. A simple "thank you" would suffice but often they are intimidated by their presence

    So they say nothing.

    And of course there will always be those who have never had a meaningful conversation with a veteran and pass their unfair and biased judgement on them. They are here to stay too.

    But I am certain that the large silent majority that I mentioned above are appreciative of a veterans service and they're voices need to be encouraged.

  2. Sarah has a good point. Besides which, although some people may have indirect connections with veterans, many of us don't have a direct connection and would feel kinda weird going up to some dude and saying "thanks" and then walking away. On the other hand, the people that we do know may seem a bit intimidating... just a thought.

  3. Sharrah, you have expressed a very common hesitation in reaching out to a Veteran to extend your appreciation.

    Try this next time your see a servicemember in transit in an airport terminal. Make eye contact and just say a quiet "thank you" It's funny how they can read your lips. And their reaction of quiet appreciation will be an unforgettable and very meaningful memory.

    You might find yourself extending this simple gesture of appreciation more and more after the first time.

  4. Sarah -thanks for this tip. I rarely find myself in airport terminals, but I'm sure this could apply to other public spaces as well - I've had the opportunity of meeting a few people at work, and after recognizing that they're in the "force" they ask me what part I'm in (I usually respond with - "Oh, my bf's bro was in the marines"). I find it odd that people don't appreciate that other's risk their lives for them everyday to protect their "inalienable rights" - what I find even more interesting is that this has produced the attitude of "if you're with us you must be one of us". At an early age I realized that yielding deadly weapons wasn't my thing.. it's an interesting story.. in any case... Thank you for all that you do for the guys fighting our battles! You're an inspiration. :)