Five years after founding The Gratitude Campaign, I've received over 10,500 e-mails, and 1,500 comments on YouTube. It seems that there is a lot to talk about with regard to gratitude for those who serve; not the least of which is the ever present challenge of understanding how to keep the politics out of it. Hopefully this blog will give us an opportunity for some rational, reasonable, and respectful discussion. I hope you'll join us...

~Scott Truitt, FOUNDER


Monday, December 13, 2010

On "Belief"

This is the blog that I had intended for the week that my dear friend Kevin died. It had been a little while since my last blog. But as my friend Dusty recently commented, what I lack in frequency I make up for in length. Consider yourself warned.

I’ve been in a bit of a debate with a very dear friend of mine over the past few days over some social/political comments that they made that surprised me. The comments did not seem to be in alignment with who I know them to be, and they have opened up some interesting conversation between us about what our beliefs are. Not coincidentally, as I was responding to an e-mail from them on this particular issue we were debating, I happened to be listening to John Mayer’s song, “Belief”. In it, he writes:

Is there anyone who
Ever remembers changing their mind from
The paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls
Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time

Everyone believes
In how they think it ought to be
Everyone believes
And they're not going easily

Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water
You never can hit who you're trying for

Our beliefs can be a volatile thing. As Mayer writes, “Belief is a beautiful armor, but makes for the heaviest sword”. I think what he’s saying there is, that our beliefs can be a wonderful protection from the stresses and challenges that life throws at us on a daily basis. It is when we try to impose our beliefs on others that we run into trouble.

“Everyone believes, and they’re not going easily.” When our need for others to agree with our beliefs becomes too strong, or when we are too threatened by others’ beliefs our debates escalate, as though yelling louder will make them agree with us. But, “is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking rank at all from something someone yelled real loud one time?” No. And when the yelling doesn’t work, we occasionally turn to violence. This is how wars begin. But, as Bertrand Russell said:

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

Financial guru and self-help speaker T. Harv Ecker, talking about the difference between poor people and rich people, says that poor people have an either/or mentality – I can either have this or that; I can either buy these jeans or I can pay my electric bill. Rich people, on the other hand, have an and/both mentality. In every situation they ask themselves, “How can I have both of these?”

I’d like to suggest that we can take this same approach to our beliefs. The world does not have to be either this way or that way – it can almost always be and/both ways. In order to get there, we need to increase the amount of energy we put into asking ourselves, “How can this be both?”

As Americans, we are often very conscious of how rich we are financially as compared to the rest of the world. But how often do we acknowledge how rich we are in Freedom? Do we not have enough Freedom to spare? Can we not hold true to our beliefs, AND allow others the freedom to hold to their beliefs?

The final two lines of Mayer’s “Belief” are:

What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can. Belief can.
What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand? Belief can. Belief can.

It seems a fair assumption here that Mayer is referring to the war in Iraq. I’m not here to debate the war in Iraq. I think Mayer’s point is worth considering in a broader sense; however, that holding too strongly to our beliefs to the point where we try to impose them on others comes at a great cost. And it is very easy to say that our beliefs are worth dying for when we are not the ones who are dying for them. It is very easy to say that it is acceptable that the rights of the few should be limited in order to increase the safety and security of the many when you are sure that you are one of the many, and not one of the few. I would just suggest that we be very careful about what precedent we set. One day we may find ourselves on the wrong end of that equation.

Are there some beliefs that are worth dying for? Yes. I think that there are. I’m not sure that, sitting here alone in the peace, quiet, and safety of my office I can tell you which ones they are for me. I suspect that that is a question that no one can truly answer until they are put to the test. What is interesting to me in our current paradigm is that the vast majority of us have not had to sacrifice much of anything over the past 60 years in order to impose our beliefs on the rest of the world, or on each other. War is something that most of us watch on television these days. Would our opinions change if we were the ones who had to look another human being in the eye and deny them their right to liberty? Their right to life? Or if we had to look a mother in the eye and ask her to sacrifice her child to defend our beliefs?

My friend has a right to their opinion, just as I do. I respect that. And I don’t need to change their opinion, any more than I expect that they’re going to change mine. I just hope that we can learn to allow each other the right to our own opinions without taking it personally, and without the need to prove one of us right and one of us wrong. Our founding fathers had a simple concept in mind for our country, and that was that my freedom ends where yours begins, and vice versa. Let’s allow each other the freedom to believe in how we think it ought to be.

Monday, November 29, 2010

On How My Friend Kevin Died -- Part 2

Like many Service Personnel who return home after serving in combat, Kevin found that he could no longer relate to his wife that he was so connected to prior to combat. I don’t know all of the details of their relationship, nor would it be my place to share them if I did. Suffice it to say that their marriage was one more casualty of that roadside bombing in Iraq.

Kevin was very open and honest about the fact that he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He opened up to me (and to anyone who would listen) about the nightmares; the flashbacks; averaging two to three hours of sleep per night; the fears of IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) even on the Washington State highways that he’d driven for years; the imbalances in his body as a result of the numerous medications he was encouraged to take; the ineffectiveness of multiple rounds of inpatient treatment programs; and to add insult to injury, the limitations that having TBI and PTSD put on his career options within the military that he had dedicated his entire adult life to.

As is all too often the case, the treatment that Kevin was receiving for his TBI and PTSD was inadequate to address the problem. So Kevin, like many others in his shoes, began medicating himself with alcohol just to be able to survive from day to day. And while he was fully aware that this was not a productive solution to the problem, it was the only solution that provided the comfort he needed. And the other solutions being offered to him weren’t working. Proportional to the PTSD that it was intended to dampen, his drinking was severe.

The shortest, simplest answer to the question, “How did my Hero, Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson die?” is that he drank himself to death. His liver failed, and essentially poisoned his blood. Kevin spent his final days in a hospital bed, surrounded by his family, waiting for the peace of death.

There are those who will say that by being so brutally honest here, I am dishonoring Kevin’s memory. I understand that, and I respect that. The conclusion that I’ve come to, along with Kevin’s family, is that to the contrary it is a testament to Kevin’s love for his fellow human beings that he would want people to know how he died. He would want people to learn from his experience, so that nobody would again have to endure what he endured. He would want people to understand that not every casualty of war dies in battle. For many, the injuries suffered in war do not leave a visible scar. But rather they sit beneath the surface, killing the Service Person slowly, methodically, perhaps years after the battle… and further injuring their loved ones along with them.

My friend Kevin was killed in Iraq in May of 2004. He died in a hospital in Seattle in November of 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On How My Friend Kevin Died - Part 1

If you are like me, the first thought that ran through your mind when you heard the news that my dear friend Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson died is, “How? What happened?” Kevin was only 45 years old. He should have had a lot of years left in him. Even if you didn’t know him you can see from his photo, or from his image in our video that he was too young to die.

I’m going to attempt to tell you how he died, as best I can, because I believe that Kevin would want people to know the truth of how he died as much as he would want us to know how he lived. Kevin was an example for others in every sense that he could be – both positive and negative. He showed us how we should be, by being an example to follow, and by showing us our own failures.

For those who didn’t know Kevin, a little background history:

Kevin joined the Army at age 17 and served for 27 years. He was an athlete, history buff, compulsive reader, and teacher. He served on every continent other than Antarctica. He was a Medic. And, in addition to personally saving hundreds of lives in several different combat zones, he also trained other medics who saved thousands more. He is the recipient of over 20 awards and medals, including one for the liberation of Kuwait in the first Gulf War that he gave to me as a gift; which speaks to his generosity and caring for others. Even in his final months of life he volunteered at a shelter, and helped his neighbor’s move, despite wearing a leg brace and barely being able to walk. Kevin was always more concerned for others than he was for himself. He is a hero in every sense of the word, although he would never agree with me on that.

In May of 2004, while serving in Iraq (again), Kevin’s HUMV was hit by a roadside bomb while on a mission to assess the medical needs of the local population to see how the Army could help. The explosion killed one of his best friends, Jeffrey Shaver, and Kevin suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), sending him home. Kevin would spend the remainder of his life struggling with the guilt of surviving that blast, believing that he should have been the one to be killed rather than Jeff, and wishing that he could go back to Iraq to finish out his tour beside his fellow Soldiers.

Kevin’s TBI caused him severe memory loss – to the extent that he would often have to enter his driving destination into his GPS navigation system any time he drove. Not because he didn’t remember the way, but to ensure that he didn’t forget where he was going. He couldn’t remember much of his service. And when his psychiatrist helped him to bring much of it back through hypnosis, it was like being hit with every bad experience he’d had in his entire life all at once.

Unlike many Veterans who refuse to speak of their experiences in war, Kevin was willing to share with me some of the things he witnessed and experienced in his service in at least three combat zones that I am aware of. Horrific things. Things that no human being should see or endure. Things that I can’t bring myself to share here. Kevin had much to reconcile when those memories came back to him.

The rest of the story next week...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

MSG Kevin Johnson

I had a rather lengthy blog that I was going to post today. I was just putting the final touches on it when I received an e-mail informing me of some very sad news.

Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson, who appears in our video, passed away last night.

I've written before about Heroes. Kevin is my hero. He was an ordinary guy who did extraordinary things. He was humble, mild, gracious, polite, caring, fun, understanding... and I will miss him terribly.

Please join me in a moment of reflection and empathy for Kevin and his loved ones. And please, honor his memory and his service.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On "Brothers"

This past weekend I had a rare opportunity. My wife was out of town for the weekend. So I took advantage of the time I had alone to rent a couple of guy movies; one of which was “Brothers” (2009 - Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman).

The movie follows two brothers, one of which is serving in Afghanistan (Maguire). The other is fresh out of prison (Gyllenhaal), and back at home trying to support his brother’s wife (Portman) and kids in his absence. When Maguire is reported killed in action, the bond between Gyllenhaal and Portman becomes very close and, in their grief, teeters on romantic. This creates a fair amount of drama when it is discovered that Maguire is still alive, and he returns home.

In the midst of the tension between Maguire and Portman over her relationship with Gyllenhaal, however, is a much more common and all too real drama -- the tension created between spouses when one returns home from serving in a combat zone having experienced things that they cannot share with the spouse who remained home.

There is a very powerful scene in the movie in which Maguire is meeting with his commanding officer to request a return to Afghanistan. His commander asks, “How are things with the family?” Maguire responds, “They just don’t understand. No one does. I just want to get back to my men.”

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a few Veterans who’ve served in combat zones; some in more than one combat zone. I’ve been very honored by their willingness to discuss their experiences with me. Although some of their stories are not pleasant to hear, and I have often found myself at a complete loss as to what to say in response, or how to support them, at the same time I know that it is important for them to be able to talk about it when and if they can. They know that I can’t truly understand their experience, because I have never experienced anything like what they have. I have no frame of reference that even comes close. And I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to tell someone what you’ve witnessed, or perhaps even participated in, for fear of judgment. It is this feeling of “they won’t get it” or “they won’t understand” that creates huge disconnects between the people who have experienced war, and those who have not.

I’m no expert on Post Traumatic Stress. I have no formal training in psychology or counseling. But if I could offer some advice based on what I’ve learned in my own experience, it would be this:

Listen. Show an interest in and a willingness to listen. Create a safe space for them to let what they're holding inside out. Ask questions. But do not judge. Acknowledge, to them and to yourself, that you will never completely understand what they have to tell you. Listen anyway. It is important for them to be able to talk about their experience with someone who can offer compassion and empathy.

Recognize that war is insane. It is an exercise in placing sane people into an insane situation, and we cannot expect people to behave sanely in an insane situation. Many of our Service Personnel have to become different versions of themselves just to survive the experience of war. They may never get back to the person they were before this experience. It’s probably not fair and reasonable of us to expect them to. If this person is someone that you love, love the new version of them. Be patient. Be kind. Be understanding. Be respectful. And understand that that might come in the form of respecting their choice not to tell you about their experience. You might encourage them to talk to someone who would understand. There are many options available through the VA. Sometimes just giving them the opportunity to talk is enough of a gesture to make it ok for them to open up to someone else.

We asked them to serve. The least that we can do in return is to hold a space for them to process their experience of serving with dignity, love, respect, and understanding.

Friday, September 3, 2010

On Contagious Gratitude

Yesterday I was flying home from a business trip. Prior to boarding the plane, I noticed one active military member and one Veteran waiting in the gate area for my same flight. I went over to each of them, as I typically do, I shook their hands, and I thanked them for serving for us. I learned that the Veteran was a Veteran of WWII, having served in the Philippines. Being somewhat of a WWII history buff, I know what that service means, and I was very struck, and honored just to have met him. Both he and the younger Soldier were very gracious, and clearly appreciated my recognition of their service.

As we were boarding the plane and passengers were getting settled, I spoke with two of the flight attendants. I had flown this airline just a few days prior, so I was aware that they offered several snack items, drinks, and in-flight entertainment that were not included in the fare, but could be purchased for a small additional fee. I explained to the flight attendants that I had observed at least one, perhaps two active military personnel and one Veteran who would be on the flight with us, and I told them that I would like to cover anything that these Service Men would like to have during the flight. Both of the flight attendants were visibly struck by my offer. One even noted, “Oh, that’s so sweet of you!” I replied, “Well, I’m grateful.”

As it turned out, the active military member slept throughout the flight, and did not have the opportunity to take advantage of my offer. The Veteran accepted a snack item, which he later walked the full length of the plane to come thank me for; which I was again struck by. This man had helped to define the very world in which I live, and the freedom and prosperity that I have enjoyed since birth, and here he was offering me a very heartfelt thank-you for a $4 snack item.

My point in sharing this story, however, is not even about the Soldier or the Veteran, but rather about the flight attendants. Over the course of the flight, they offered me free snacks, a free beverage (that would have otherwise cost extra), and they swiped their own card to provide me with free entertainment. And they never did allow me to pay for the snack that the WWII Veteran ordered. So, in the end, not only did the Veteran get a little bit of well-deserved recognition and gratitude, but it cost me nothing to give it to him. And what’s more, I got some too. The flight attendant who swiped her card to cover my in-flight entertainment remarked when she was done, “See? When you do good for others, you get good back yourself.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Gratitude is contagious. Pass it on.

The airline was Frontier, by the way. Fly with them if you can. Power to the Positive.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Glorifying War

You may have noticed that I haven't posted a blog in a while. As hard as it may be for those who know me to believe, occassionally I do run short on things to say. But then something always pops up...

Today I was notified of an opinion piece about thegratitudecampaign published in several news papers, including The Christian Science Monitor, by a freelance writer and college professor named David McGrath. Mr. McGrath, it seems, takes issue with our campaign because he beleives that it glorifies war, and he is particularly concerned about how that influences our children.

You can find Mr. McGrath's piece here: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0816/Support-our-troops-Not-with-an-empty-gesture

In response to Mr. McGrath's article, I have offered to The Christian Science Monitor the following letter:

Mr. McGrath:

I read your piece on your decision not to participate in thegratitudecampaign. First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge your right to your own opinion, and your freedom under the Constitution to express that opinion; a freedom that has been defended by those who serve for over two hundred years. So, with regard to your exercising your freedoms, I applaud you.

Having said that, I am struck by the fact that in addition to being a freelance writer, you are also a professor. I have attended three colleges and one university, and if there was one thing that my professors impressed upon me with regard to anything that I wrote, it was that I did the appropriate research prior to making an assertion. Even in matters of opinion, they said, only informed opinions can stand up to scrutiny. While I respect your right to your own opinion, and I take no issue with you choosing not to participate in thegratitudecampaign, I do wonder if the opinion that you have published here for the world to see was an informed one.

If I understand your argument correctly, you seem to be taking issue with two things: The glorification of war, and the affect that that has on our children.

First, to the glorification of war: I wonder if, prior to forming and publishing your opinion, you took the time to read the materials available on our web site along with the video that you take issue with. Did you, for instance, read the FAQ/Comments page of our web site on which we discuss that this campaign is about gratitude for service – not for war. Or that a large percentage of our active service personnel and our Veterans have never served in a combat zone, or fired a weapon in anger. Or that this campaign is just the first step in helping civilians to engage and understand our service members so that they will be more likely to support them in additional, more tangible ways. Or that, contrary to public opinion, it is possible to support our Troops and support Peace -- in fact we support Peace because we support our Troops. Or that our campaign is not about the war in Iraq, or in Afghanistan. Rather, it is about showing gratitude for service to our fellow man. Or that war itself – killing and dying for a cause – is a failure on our part as human beings to resolve our disputes through more civilized means, and that we as civilians bear the responsibility for preventing future wars.

Did you read our blogs on the psychology of gratitude, and giving power to the positive? Or on the dangers of hero worship, and of overcorrecting? Did you read any of that, and consider it before forming your opinion? For that matter, did you notice that there is not a single image in our video of combat or violence of any kind? Did you notice that there isn’t even a single weapon shown in our video? I am a fairly objective and reasonable man, Mr. McGrath, but I am hard pressed to find anything in our video or associated in any way with our campaign that glorifies war. To the contrary, we make it abundantly clear that we see war as failure.

With regard to influencing our children, first, I’m not sure that I agree with you that children are incapable of distinguishing between showing gratitude for service, and glorifying war. As parents, and as a society, we have a responsibility to teach our children our shared beliefs and values. And, while it may be true that they may not yet fully comprehend all aspects of one of our values or how it plays a part in how we interact with one another as human beings that does not mean that the best solution is to simply choose not to teach it to them. When I was six years old I did not fully understand why it was so important to my parents that I say “please” and “thank you”, or that I chew with my mouth closed, or that I not interrupt people in mid-sentence. Fortunately, the human mind does not stop developing at age six. I learned those lessons, and as I got into my teens and early twenties, I learned to appreciate the “why” behind those lessons.

When I was twelve years old I asked my father – a retired Air Force Captain who specialized in electrical systems on nuclear missiles – how he felt about being such a warm, loving, peaceful man working on weapons that were capable of killing millions of people. He responded that the way he saw it, if he did his job really, really well, those missiles would never be fired. Even as a twelve year old, I understood what he was saying. And to this day the missiles he worked on have never been fired. And many have been or are being dismantled.

Admittedly, the concepts that someone could choose to serve and themselves not believe that war is glorious, or of civilians being able to support Peace and still support our Troops, or of separating our gratitude for the warrior from our distaste of the war are challenging – even for many adults. But just because they’re challenging concepts doesn’t mean we should avoid them. To the contrary, avoiding them may be the very thing that allows war to continue. And, ironically, it may just be that our children are more capable of understanding them than we are, as they have not yet been socialized to believe that service and peace are incompatible.

In conclusion, Mr. McGrath, I share your concern about our society glorifying war, and especially in the eyes of our children. But if we’re going to do something about society teaching our children to glorify war, it seems to me that we should be much more concerned about the literally millions of simulated killings that our children see on television and in the movies, and even participate in through war-themed video games than about a campaign that encourages peace, responsibility, and gratitude for service to your fellow man. Of course, you have the right to disagree.


Scott Truitt

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Christmas In July

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a chain of mattress stores that runs a promo nearly every year called “Christmas in July”. Now, I’m a Brand Strategist and Designer, and I work with a lot of retailers. So I’m pretty familiar with commercialism and materialism; and in most cases, I’m ok with it. But “Christmas in July”, I think, has to be the most blatant commercialism of Christmas I’ve seen, associating Christmas with the sale of a product during a season that has nothing whatsoever to do with the celebration of Christmas.

Having said that, it does bring up an interesting issue; one that I wrote about in January of this year. So this “Christmas in July”, I thought I’d revisit my post from January, just as a reminder:

How many of us watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special every year? And how many more just enjoy the Vince Guaraldi music from that special? In his song, “Christmas Time is Here” there is a line that says, “Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.” There’s another song in my rotation called “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas” by Jon Bon Jovi. And I’m sure that there are many more with similar sentiments that we all sing along with, fully entrenched in the Christmas spirit, and think, “Yeah – I wish every day could be like Christmas, too.” The warm, fuzzy feeling that we have at that time of year; the open-heartedness; the willingness to reach out to, and care for, and love our fellow man -- I know that that sounds sappy and sentimental now that we’re out of the Christmas season. But really, what’s so crazy about that idea? If we can be that way at Christmas (or Hanukah, or Kwanza, or Ashura, or Solstice, or whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year), what is stopping us from being that way all year? It’s amazing how temporary that feeling is for most of us at Christmas – how quickly that feeling goes away, and we settle right back into our routines and our self-centeredness.

When we think of January, we tend to think of the New Year, and of resolutions. How many of us make resolutions that have anything to do with reaching out to other people like we did at Christmas? I’m guessing not too many. Resolutions tend to be about losing weight, reaching our financial goals, quitting smoking… which are all good things, of course. I’m just struck by how quickly we return to thinking about “me, me, me.”

So this week, I’d like to suggest a different kind of resolution. What if we resolved to show our Holiday spirit all throughout the year? What if we reached out to our fellow man, and showed compassion, and understanding, and respect to others every day of the year? What if we focus our attention on how much we are alike with the people around us, rather than how we are different, and we deal with those people with love rather than fear? It may sound sappy and idealistic, but I can live with that. I’d rather live with that than the alternative. And I’m man enough to be sappy and sentimental and be ok with it. I’ve had great role models - a Captain, and a Master Sergeant just to name two.

So… remembering the best of Christmas, and of ourselves at that time of year, I wish you a Merry Christmas in July to you and your family. Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men (and women).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Overcorrecting

This morning I awoke to find a comment that someone had left on our YouTube page. It read:

“Gratitude should be shown to individuals not to entire categories of people. Just because someone is wearing a uniform that doesn't mean you know anything significant about who they are. I know that this video is well intended but I worry that this is a double edged sword; that people who are eager to make positive assumptions about soldiers might be prone to make negative assumptions when they encounter a woman in a hijab or burka for example.”

I wanted to take a moment to respond to this, because I think it raises a couple of important points. I’ll address the first couple of points, and then to the real issue at hand:

First, ironically, our campaign IS about thanking individuals as opposed to entire categories of people. Our campaign was specifically designed to provide civilians with the means to look one person in the eye and thank them for their service. And while it is true that just because someone wears a uniform doesn’t mean that we know who they are it does tell us what they do and that is that, by definition, they serve to defend our freedom and security. And Service is deserving of gratitude.

Now, before I go on, I want to acknowledge that the author of this comment likely has their heart in the right place. They are clearly expressing a concern about discrimination; and I agree that that is something that we all need to be conscious and aware of. Having said that, I think that this comment illustrates an all too frequent response in our society of overcorrection – denying a certain good out of fear of a potential bad.

Let me use an example: helmet laws. Many states, including my native Washington, have laws requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. These laws were enacted to address a growing problem of riders getting into accidents, cracking their skulls, and thus requiring intensive medical treatments for which they had no insurance to pay, thus costing the tax-payers millions of dollars per year. The solution? Make everyone wear helmets. The problem with this solution, and the point at which it becomes overcorrection, is that it denies riders – even those with adequate health insurance -- the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they are willing to take the risk of riding without a helmet. If a rider has adequate insurance to pay for their own treatment should they get in an accident, and they are not risking harm to anyone else by not wearing a helmet, shouldn’t they have the right to decide for themselves whether they wear a helmet?

Some (in my opinion) smarter states have enacted laws stating that riders who choose to ride without a helmet must be able to show proof of adequate health insurance in addition to their license to ride. This solution actually addresses the issue at hand without overcorrecting and denying others their freedom to decide for themselves.

In the case of the author of the comment above, their solution seems to be that we should not thank anyone we don’t know for their service for fear that the opposite could happen and that certain people might be discriminated against for what they choose to wear. I would argue that that solution does more to separate us and isolate us as people by suggesting that we can’t assume anything good about our fellow man for fear that we might also assume something bad. There will always be the potential of people assuming bad things about those they don’t know and don’t understand. And we need to be conscious of that, and encourage people to learn more about each other, rather than isolating and engaging less with one another. Let’s deal with discrimination directly when and where and how it happens. But denying those who serve the gratitude that they deserve, denying people the option to assume the best in their fellow man, to connect with them, and express what is in their hearts is an overcorrection that does more harm than good.

I would encourage everyone to see what happens when they assume the best in their fellow man, and interact with them accordingly. Thank those who serve for you. And smile at the woman in the hijab or burka. Goodwill is contagious. And wouldn’t you rather catch that than the fear of the other edge of the sword?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On the Power of a Moment

My wife and I were dropping some friends off at the airport this past weekend. And on the way back to the car we passed a Soldier with his wife and small child pulling his bags out of his car. As we passed by, I gave him the Sign. He nodded, and held up his hand as a sign of “no problem”, or “you’re welcome”, just as Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson did in our video.

I’ve given the Sign to those who serve many times before. But more often than not, I approach those who serve directly, and I offer a hand shake and verbal “thank you for serving”, and I engage in a little conversation. When I do use the Sign, it’s often because I can’t reach the person I want to thank, or because the situation does not support me approaching them directly. And in many of those situations, they’ve offered a head nod, or some other sign of recognition. But this is the first time that I have experienced a Soldier’s reaction being exactly as Master Sergeant Johnson reacted in our video. It was quite powerful to me.

As my wife and I drove away, I couldn’t help but piece together the situation we had just witnessed and participated in. This Soldier was clearly unloading his car -- not loading it. I am not a gifted enough writer to communicate how powerful and meaningful that realization was for us in that moment. He was unloading his bags at the airport. He was on his way out… to God knows where, for God knows how long. His wife and small child were there to see him off… for God knows how long. What a solemn moment this must have been for that Soldier and his family. His wife, who knew all too well what was happening; and his small child, who had no idea what was happening, or how long it would be before they saw their father again; or that there was a very real possibility that they may never see their father again.

And in this moment - this incredibly powerful, life-changing moment for this man and his wife and small child that I happened upon - I offered a simple Sign of gratitude. Was it enough? Did I do enough to earn this man’s service and sacrifice? Did I do enough to make this man’s wife feel that her sacrifice – that her child’s sacrifice – were worth it? I have no idea; from my point of view, absolutely not. But it’s a start. Perhaps it served as a reminder of why they’re sacrificing what they’re sacrificing. Perhaps knowing that their service and sacrifices were recognized, and appreciated helped in some small way to assuage the heartache of the moment. I have no way of knowing for sure. What I do know for sure is that from my point of view, it was a powerful reminder that a “thank you from the bottom of my heart” is a very good start; and certainly tenfold better than no acknowledgment at all. But it’s just a start.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Missed Opportunities

My sister and her husband came to visit my wife and me for the weekend. They just arrived tonight, and we shared a glass of wine, and did a little catching up. As we talked about their trip, they shared with me that they had had a couple of opportunities in the airports along the way to express their gratitude to a Service Member, but had missed them. Both times they were walking along the concourse, both hands full, and the moment just went by them too quickly to do anything about it.

My wife added that she had had a couple of similar missed opportunities recently, where she was at a grocery store, and wanted to say "thank you" to a Service Member, but they never made eye contact. This is a little ironic for my wife in particular by the way, since she appears in our video, and the first shot or scene in the video of her watching the Soldiers walk by is what the Director, Amy Sedgwick and I referred to as the "missed opportunity shot".

I've had many such experiences myself, where I saw a Service Member out in public, and I wanted to express my gratitude, but circumstances did not allow it. Perhaps they were too far away, or I couldn't get to them, or they were engaged in some activity that would have been rude for me to interrupt. Then I was left with this nagging feeling that I had missed my opportunity -- that perhaps I had just wimped out, made excuses, and failed to take the initiative to approach them. Then I felt bad for not telling this person how much their service means to me.

So, here's what I've learned from those experiences: It's OK. Sure, in our video we say, "Just don't miss the opportunity to thank the person right in front of you." But that line is not intended as a guilt-trip -- it's a goal -- an intention. It doesn't mean that you have to feel bad if you miss a single opportunity to thank someone. There will be other opportunities -- trust me. The point is not to kick yourself for missing one, but rather to set the intention to take the next one.

The one other thing I would add to that is that this is a relatively new campaign in the grand scheme of things. Sure, most Service Members have seen our video, and are familiar with the Sign. But we've still got work to do to make receiving our Sign as common for those who serve as sending or receiving a military salute. You are part of that work. They have been trained to look for rank insignias on other uniforms to determine if they should be sending or receiving a military salute from another Service Member -- they haven't been trained to look for our Sign... yet. We're training them now -- you and me. So my advice to you when you can't make eye contact is: Give them the Sign anyway. Perhaps they'll see the tail end of it, if not the entire thing. Perhaps they'll see it out of the corner of their eye. And the more they see it, the more they'll look for it. It will become a reflex -- just like the military salute.

And even if they don't see it, you will know that you did it. And trust me on this one, doing it feels better than not doing it. Even if they don't see it at all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Gratitude & Psychological Well-Being

This week, I want to share an excerpt from a blog on Psychology Today by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, who sent it to me last week. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. (Posted with her permission.):

Many real-life heroes also do not expect thank-yous. Yet, when we benefit from the labors that others put out for our sake, we feel internally driven to and want to express our gratitude. And that's a good thing, in more ways than one.

Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough point out that gratitude is the "forgotten factor" in happiness research. They point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others.

Expressing gratitude in your daily life might even have a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. In a review article published this past March, researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.

Now how can you apply these ideas to your own life? Here are some suggestions to boost your own, shall we say, GQ's ("gratitude quotient"):

1. If someone thanks you, accept the thanks graciously. Let the person know you appreciate being thanked. That's all you need to do. Really.

2. If you find that difficult, think about why gratitude makes you uncomfortable. Do you not feel worthy of being thanked? In my study of personal fulfillment in midlife, I identified a subgroup of people whose own fulfillment was hampered by their lack of faith in their own worth. Chronic feelings of inadequacy can make it difficult for people to benefit from any thanks that come their way.

3. Look for small things to be grateful for. Not all acts of kindness have a capital "K." A driver who lets you ease into a busy highway deserves a wave just as much as someone who holds open a door when you're loaded down with packages. A smile will boost your GQ and make both of you feel better.

4. Don't fret about gratitude infractions. If you forget to send a thank you note don't worry about it and certainly don't use elapsed time as an excuse to avoid the task altogether. Send a quick email and then get to the real thing. If you're a chronic forgetter, though, you might try to figure out why. By the same token, if someone forgets to thank you, don't ruminate over it, thereby raising your BP if not your GQ.

5. Keep your thank you's short, sweet, and easy to write. One reason people procrastinate about writing thank you's is that they want them to be original and not seem hasty, insincere, or ill conceived. This doesn't mean the thank you should be one that is short enough to tweet but if you don't build it up in your mind as having to be a magnum opus you'll be less inclined to put it off. Whatever you do, don't make excuses or lie about having sent a thank you that you never did (for more on lying and excuse-making, check out my previous post).

A great reminder that gratitude is not only good for the receiver, but also for the giver. Thanks, Susan. To read Susan's entire blog, please visit http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201005/giving-thanks-the-benefits-gratitude

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Strength & Weakness

I was having an e-mail exchange today with a psychology professor from the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the subject of gratitude. As I was responding to her, I was commenting on why some people choose not to – or fail to, as the case may be – express their gratitude.

In my observation, many people have a real challenge with expressing their emotions – especially men. And that challenge is multiplied tenfold when expressing their emotions to strangers. I don’t know if this issue is getting worse or better over time on a societal level. But I find that so many of our issues in our relationships – whether they be interpersonal or international relationships – come down to communication.

Now, when people throw that phrase around with respect to relationships – “It’s all about communication” – I think that they’re often times just thinking about how well, or how craftily they’re communicating what they want to communicate in order to get the result that they want. But what is a bigger problem, I think, is what they’re not communicating at all – how they honestly feel about something or someone. Of course, in order to communicate something to someone else, you must first be consciously aware of it yourself. And that may be 70% of the problem for many people. But even those of us who are fairly self-aware often fail to communicate our feelings to others. Sometimes I wonder if, at least in the US, we’ve decided that expressions of love and gratitude, for example, are signs of weakness.

I’ve noticed this in my own relationships. I’ve always been pretty good about expressing my emotions to my wife. But I recently realized that I don’t express myself quite as well to many other people in my life.

My wife and I met another couple about three years ago who have become very dear friends of ours. And it has become a norm in that relationship to tell each other “I love you.” This was strange enough for me at first to tell another woman, who was not my wife, mother, or sister that I loved her. But it was stranger still to tell another man who was not my father that I loved him. It has since become very normal and comfortable for me. And it occurred to me as I was hanging out with a girlfriend with whom I’d been friends since 7th grade that I had never told her I loved her. What a stark contrast, I thought – and a tragedy, really – that I was telling someone I’d only known for three years how I honestly felt about them, but I wasn’t telling this woman who had been my dear friend for 25 years how I felt about her. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel just as strongly for her, but rather because I simply wasn’t acknowledging it, either to myself or to her. And if I was unable to tell this dear friend how I felt about her, you can bet that I wasn't telling too many strangers how I felt about them.

I wonder if our inability to show how we truly feel – again, especially for men -- is frequently because we’re afraid of how it will throw off the balance of power in a relationship. As though expressing feelings of love, gratitude, appreciation, or admiration makes us appear somehow weaker, more needy, more dependent. The irony, I find, is that some of the strongest people I know – or have ever seen – are the ones who are willing to stand naked in front of a crowd and expose their weaknesses without shrinking back or feeling ashamed. Gandhi is a great example. My friend from 7th grade, and my wife are two others.

It’s as though they’ve decide that having weaknesses does not make you weak. Anyone can build a wall around themselves and try to hide who they really are or what they really feel. But, as Pink Floyd wrote so brilliantly in words and music back in the 70’s, it doesn’t take much to “tear down the wall,” exposing those weaknesses, and destroying the person. The truly strong person is the person who can expose their weaknesses to the crowd, with no walls to protect them, and stand there head held high knowing that no other person is in a place to judge them. Denial of weakness is just another weakness. Acknowledgment is truth strength. As Ambrose Redmoon put it:

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

Being true to how we really feel is more important. Telling others how we feel about them, as we would like to know how they feel about us, is more important. Acknowledging the service of others, so that we encourage more people to serve their fellow man, is more important. Living in the Now, in a state of connection with, and gratitude for our fellow man rather than in a state of isolation, loneliness, distrust, and conflict with our fellow man, is more important.

The pleasant surprise is that it is much easier to be strong and courageous enough to share your gratitude than you might first expect. And it gets easier each time you do it. Facing fear makes fear go away. I have never met anyone who didn’t want to be thanked or told that they were loved. It was my inability to say it that was the true weakness. I am much stronger now, and getting stronger each day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

On The American Fighting Man

For this week's post, I am borrowing someone else's words. This is an excerpt from an e-mail that I received that I thought was very well said, and a good reminder for those who don't know a lot of military personnel personally. I don't know who the author was -- I would love to give them credit. Although this passage refers to the average military "man", I hope that you will read it as I did, interpreting "man" to represent both Service Men and Women, as they both serve equally:

The average age of the military man is 19 years. He is a short haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as half man, half boy. Not yet dry behind the ears, not old enough to buy a beer, but old enough to die for his country. He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father's, but he has never collected unemployment either.

He's a recent High School graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a ten year old jalopy, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away.

He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk. He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark. He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must.

He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional. He can march until he is told to stop, or stop until he is told to march. He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity. He is self-sufficient.

He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own hurts.

If you're thirsty, he'll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food. He'll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low.

He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands. He can save your life - or take it, because that is his job. He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay, and still find ironic humor in it all.

He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime. He has wept in public and in private for friends who have fallen in combat, and is unashamed.

He feels every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to 'square-away ' those around him who haven't bothered to stand, remove their hat, or even stop talking. In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful.

Just as did his Father, Grandfather, and Great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom. Beardless or not, he is not a boy. He is the American Fighting Man that has kept this country free for over 200 years. He has asked nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding.

Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Finding Beauty in Gray

As some of you may know, I hail from the Emerald City – Seattle. And, although Seattle is well known for its rain, most Seattleites will tell you that it’s not the rain that gets to you, it’s the gray. The rain in Seattle is actually a very light, misty rain most of the time – barely noticeable, and certainly not requiring of an umbrella. However, even when it’s not raining, the skies in Seattle can be a perfectly even, formless, featureless, uniform sheet of gray from mid-October through early June. After 30+ years in Seattle, it’s not the rain that gets to me – it’s the gray.

With regard to people, and our interactions with one another on the other hand, I’ve come to find a tremendous beauty in grayness. You see, in my observation, people are becoming increasingly polarized – especially in our infotainment. Objectivity, reason, logic, fairness, and understanding all seem to be endangered values as we give more and more of our attention and energy to the far left and the far right commentators ranting about their opposition, verbal jabs and accusations flying, fueled by what one of my former teachers used to call “dumb logic”; or worse, complete ignorance. What’s worse, we frequently presume that if someone is saying that something is “X” that means that they are saying that it can’t be anything else – it can’t also be “Y” or “Z” in addition to being “X”. And we attack and debate accordingly, based on an incomplete and presumptuous understanding of their point of view.

The truth is, there seldom is a capital “T” Truth. There is your truth, my truth, and any number of other truths depending on our own circumstances, experiences, priorities, and points of view. To say that any issue is black and white is to live in ignorant bliss; or perhaps egoic bliss. They may be one in the same. As I have mentioned before, there is no absolute “right” and absolute “wrong”. There is only what is, and whether what is works for you or not. Finding, or achieving what works – what is productive – for you typically requires not just finding what works for you, but also respecting what works for your “opponent”, and finding that sweet spot in the middle -- the gray that lies between the black and the white.

It is amazing how much time and energy can be spent when two polarized viewpoints go head to head in the hopes that one will win out as empirically correct. I invite you to consider that we don’t always have to be “right” – just productive. We don’t always have to agree -- just cooperate. We don’t always have to like, or even understand opposing opinions -- just respect them. I invite you to join me, here in my wonderful, beautiful, healthy gray world.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On "Heroes"

I was tempted to write a lengthy blog today on how to speak to those who serve – sharing some insights from my experience over the course of this campaign that other civilians might not be aware of. And I still may do that another time. But in thinking about what I wanted to say, one thing kept coming to the forefront: Don’t call them Heroes.

Now, I want to be clear here: I am not suggesting this because I don’t believe that they deserve to be called Heroes. I do; wholeheartedly. In my assessment, anyone who has dedicated – and in many cases, sacrificed -- their life to serve others is the definition of a Hero.

Having said that, what I know is that if one thing is consistent among every member of the Armed Forces that I’ve spoken to, it is their humility. Call a Veteran or Service Person a Hero, and I guarantee you that they will offer you someone else who they believe is more deserving of that title. Someone who served longer, suffered more, or accomplished more. There is always someone who, in their assessment, is more deserving of the title “Hero” – no matter who you talk to, how long they've served, how much they've suffered, or how much they've accomplished.

What I’ve learned from this is that, “Heroes” are in the eye of the beholder. By all means, if you admire someone who serves, feel free to tell them that they are your Hero. Just don’t expect them to agree that they are a Hero.

And that’s part of what makes them Heroes -- their humility.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Being Disconnected

I recently took a trip to the East Coast, and what I witnessed in the airports along the way was somewhat disheartening.

If you’ve read any of the Story of How This Began on our web site, you know that I started this campaign as a result of an experience I had in an airport. I observed a Soldier in uniform, and the civilians staring at him but not saying anything to him. I decided that civilians needed a “salute” of their own that would make it easier, and therefore more commonplace, for them to express their gratitude toward those who serve to defend our freedom. It seemed somewhat unfair to ask a man or woman to serve, requiring them to wear a uniform in public places, and then stare at them in that uniform, but not tell them what’s on our minds – not share with them how much we appreciate their service. Thus making them question what’s behind those stares, making them feel separate from the rest of us dressed in our civilian clothes, living our civilian lives.

On this trip, some eight years later, I noticed something even more disconcerting: Not only were people not connecting with those who serve, they were not connecting with anyone at all. As I sat in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for my flight home, I watched as hoards of people shuffled from gate to gate, hustling and bustling amongst their fellow passengers – their fellow human beings – but not seeing them as anything more than an obstacle – an inconvenience keeping them from making it to their next gate as quickly and easily as they’d like to. There was little eye contact, few “excuse me’s”, and “please” and “thank you’s” were rare – even between people who were talking to each other. Or perhaps I should say, talking at each other.

I’d like to encourage you to observe how often you behave like this in public. How often do you feel disconnected from your fellow man? As though everyone around you is just an obstacle that you must work around to get what you want, or get to where you want to be. It is this culture of isolation and disconnection that leads to the miscommunication and distrust in our relationships, both locally and globally, that then leads to conflict. Next time you’re feeling that way, take a deep breath. Pause for just a moment, and observe the people around you. Consider what their life might be like – what they might have on their minds. Consider how much like your life theirs might be. Consider how much you might have in common with these people. And treat them like you would like to be treated in that moment. Acknowledge them. Respect them. Look them in the eye, and notice what you see. You just might be surprised to find that you see… yourself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I was chatting with someone at lunch today about President Obama’s commitment to bring home the majority of our Troops from Iraq by August of 2010. One of the biggest issues that our Veterans of Iraq will face in their transition back to the States is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as have Veterans who came before them. In a discussion I had a little over a year ago with a counselor at the Seattle Veteran’s Center, the counselor said that current stats showed that 1 in 5 Veterans returning from a combat zone had PTSD. However, he also noted that he thought that number was grossly underestimated due to the high number of Troops who feel a responsibility to handle their stress on their own and not complain when they feel that there were others who had it worse than they do. His best guess was that the reality was probably closer to 75% - 85%.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on PTSD. But in my observation with counselors and Troops who have experienced PTSD, it appears that PTSD can range widely from relatively minor changes in personality to severe stress, flashbacks, and acts of violence. In a documentary movie that I just watched this past weekend called “Brothers at War”, the girlfriend of one Soldier remarked at how different he was upon his return from Iraq. She said that he’s much more serious; that he doesn’t laugh as much; in fact, he doesn’t show any emotion at all. In fact, he gets irritated at her when she gets emotional.

In another conversation that I had recently, a woman told me of a personal friend of hers who was married to a Marine Veteran of Iraq. His PTSD led to vivid, violent dreams wherein he believed he was being attacked. During one such dream, he physically attacked his wife and snapped her neck. Fortunately, after spending ten days in the hospital, she recovered. Most unfortunately, she returned home to discover that her husband had hung himself.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this has to stop. Now.

Again, having no personal experience in combat or with PTSD myself, I asked a friend, a Master Sergeant with over 20 years experience and three tours in Iraq about his. I told him that, in my observation, today’s military is doing an excellent job of training our Troops to disassociate from their fear and rely on their training in stressful situations so that they can get their job done and survive. But where they are falling short is in training our Troops on what to do with that fear and stress when they are no longer in combat, when the adrenaline is no longer pumping, and when that fear comes back up from where they stuffed it. I asked him if he would agree with that analysis. He replied, in a nutshell, yes – that’s exactly it.

I asked my friend what I could do to help. I said, I’m not an expert at PTSD – I don’t know what to do, or how to be of any help. He replied that, aside from his therapy, the most important thing he can do to deal with the feelings is to talk about it. The most important thing I can do – we can do, then, is to listen. Don’t judge it. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t justify it, minimize it, or try to fix it. Just listen. Know that you’ll never truly understand it unless you’ve been there, and that’s ok. Try to as best you can. The most important thing is simply to be there for them – to create a safe space where they can let this stuff out.

There will be opportunities in the near future for us to take proactive steps to help our Veterans deal with the hell we’ve put them through, and to prevent future generations from having to experience combat-related PTSD. I hope that when that opportunity presents itself you’ll join me in taking action. In the mean time, let’s practice being there for our Veterans.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Being Right vs. Being Productive

In my fifteen years with my wife, one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is the difference between being right and being productive. Occasionally you’ll be fortunate enough to accomplish both, but in my experience those times are few and far between. I don’t know if this realization came through the wisdom that comes with maturity, or if it was a result of years and years of trial and error, or both. But what has become clear to me is that “right” is a matter of personal opinion, and it depends greatly on one’s own point of view, experiences, values, beliefs, and priorities. There is no capital “R” Right. There is my right, and there is your right, and they are both equally real. Therefore, arguing a point to be right will either end in a deadlock, or in one party capitulating to the other, not because of a meeting of the minds or a realization of a universal truth, but rather just to end the argument. Minds have not been changed, and therefore the argument is likely destined to be revisited at a future date, perhaps under the guise of a different issue.

If you can let go of the need to be right, you can then look an issue instead from the standpoint of asking, “How can I be productive? How can I get what I want?” More often than not, getting what you want requires finding creative solutions that allow the other party to get what they want, as well. Sometimes all this requires is understanding where the other party is coming from, and acknowledging or validating that. Sometimes it requires a give and take, where you offer something in return for what they are offering you. But it always requires mutual respect.

The most acute examples of this lesson have come for me in my relationship with my wife. Our romantic partners are wonderful mirrors for showing us who we are and challenging us to decide who we want to be. But the lesson is equally applicable to family, friends and coworkers, countrymen, and fellow human beings throughout the world. Wars have been fought over “Right”. They’ve never been productive. As you encounter and relate to others I’d encourage you to ask yourself whether your focus is on being right and proving the other wrong; and if it is, ask yourself how that is working out for you, and whether there might be another way to approach the situation that might be more productive. Your ego may fight you on it, as mine has from time to time – it is critically important to the ego to be right. But I think you’ll find in the end that it is much more satisfying to be respectful and understanding of others and get what you want than it is to stick steadfastly to your own position, firmly entrenched in your righteousness, but still not getting what you want.

Being right always comes at a cost, and sometimes those costs can be high – lost jobs, estranged relationships, loved ones lost. Perhaps, just perhaps, if more of us as a global community were focused on being productive rather than being right, we would never again send our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters off to fight one more war to defend our righteousness. Perhaps we could be productive enough to find solutions without war. Hmm… just think of it…

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On Remembering

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they told me that they loved our campaign, but that they had a bad memory, and usually remembered The Sign about 20 minutes after having seen a member of our armed forces. I suggested to them that they might want to think about a ritual or a habit that they could adopt that would remind them.

For instance, every day I wear something that reminds me to be in a place of gratitude toward those who are serving to defend my freedom. Sometimes it’s a set of dog tags, or a bracelet, other days it’s a t-shirt or a sweatshirt with thegratitudecampaign logo on the front. I don’t wear these to show my gratitude or to express it to those who serve – I wear them to remind myself to be in a state of gratitude. The ritual of putting it on, and of catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror or a store window and seeing that logo periodically throughout the day creates a subtle, repeated reminder that I am Free, and I am grateful to those who have provided that to me.

The things that I wear are all things that we have sold in the past, or are currently selling on our web site to help support our campaign. But these kinds of rituals can be done without even buying anything. If a purchase from our web site isn’t workable for you right now, try simply printing out our logo from the header of our web site. Tape it to your bathroom mirror next to your sink, or carry it in your pocket or purse so that every day, at least once a day, you’ll see it and remember those who serve. And even if for just a couple of seconds each day, you’ll be in a state of gratitude, and imagine expressing that gratitude to someone who serves.

Then, on that day that you do see someone in uniform, or perhaps a Veteran wearing a memorial hat or pin, you’ll remember that logo you saw just that morning, or on your shirt right then. You’ll remember what they’ve done for you. And you’ll show your gratitude – either verbally, or with The Sign -- the Sign that you now know immediately, because you've seen it every single day. And then perhaps, as I’ve been told by many Service Personnel, in that moment they will remember why they serve, and be as proud of that as they have every right to be.

Monday, February 1, 2010

On Giving Power to the Positive

There is a rule in business, specifically with respect to customer service, that a happy customer will tell three people about their positive experience, while an unhappy customer will tell ten people about their negative experience. I was discussing that with someone last week when I realized that I had accepted that statistic as self-evident, without ever considering why that would be. Why do we do that? Why do we tell more people about our negative experience than we do our positive experience? Isn’t the positive experience the one that we want to reinforce? So why do we put more time and energy into focusing on what’s wrong than we do on what’s right?

The hypothesis that I developed in the midst of this conversation was that perhaps we focus on what we feel needs to be changed. If an experience went well for us, perhaps we decide that no action needs to be taken beyond continuing to do what is already working. Whereas if we observe that a situation, circumstance, or experience is not working, then something needs to change. And in order for someone to change it, they need to understand what doesn’t work about the current situation. So we are all too happy to tell them all the things that are wrong with what they’re doing. Of course that’s not really true -- we seldom tell the person who can actually affect change what the change is that needs to happen. Instead we tell everyone else.

It is an interesting question to ponder: What would happen if we spent as much or more of our time and energy focusing on what people are doing right, as opposed to what they’re doing wrong? It seems a given that we would get more of what we want more often if we told others what they were doing right, rather than only telling them what they’re doing wrong, leaving them guessing as to what “right” would be.

For my part, right now I’d like to applaud those who respect others’ right to their own opinion, and can share ideas without having to be right or prove the other wrong. I applaud those who are fair minded, and can see beyond their own egoic needs and serve the greater good. I applaud those who are willing to own their mistakes and admit them to others so that others may learn from them, as well. I applaud those who can hear others admit their mistakes and forgive, knowing that we all make them. I applaud those who serve their fellow man; whether it be through their place of worship; social service; police, fire, or medical service; or any number of other ways, including those who serve in the Armed Forces. And I applaud those who serve simply by sharing positive thoughts, and speaking up when they see what’s working.

Scientists have discovered that happiness is contagious; meaning that we become more happy simply being around others who are happy. In fact, we can become happier if someone two degrees away from us is happier – a friend of a friend. In fact, it still works if a friend of a friend of a friend is happier – we will become happier. So, given that, I’ll leave you with this question:

What are you spreading around?

Monday, January 25, 2010

On "You Should..."

I received a comment today on one of my blogs below that informed me of the following:

“What a bunch of crap, there are so many people in the US that have been laid off, or have a terrible sickness, and so on and so on, you should focus your efforts at HOME.”

I could debate that point with the author, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, and explain to them that there are over 20 million living Veterans in the United States, and that a large percentage of the 2.6 million who are currently serving are also stationed at bases here in the U.S., and therefore I am focusing my efforts here at home every bit as much as anywhere else.

But I’m not sure that’s even the compelling issue here. What is more compelling to me is the frequency with which we tell other people what they “should” be doing. If you take a step back from that for just a moment and think about what is really being said behind that single word it might sound something like this:

“My world is not the way I want it to be. What is important and meaningful to me is more important than what is important and meaningful to you. And in order for all to be right in my world, you must agree with my values and priorities and do what I think should be done.”

It sounds a little less reasonable when we put it that way, doesn’t it? And yet there seems to be an increasing number of people out there who feel perfectly justified in telling others what they “should” be doing.

What I've found ironic about this is that, whenever someone tells me what I “should” be doing with thegratitudecampaign (or instead of thegratitudecampaign, as the case may be) I always ask them the same question: What are you doing to take action on that “should”? I have yet to receive a single response to that question. Not one. What I assume that that means (and my observations thus far support this assumption), is that the people who tend to speak the loudest about what others “should” be doing are typically the ones doing the least to take action on that “should” themselves. It’s as though we’ve decided that we get as much karmic credit from the universe by vehemently telling others what they should do as we get by doing that thing ourselves.

I have also observed an interesting paradox in that those who do take action on what they are passionate about tend to have more respect for and be more accepting of others’ right to have their own priorities and passions. They understand that we all have our own values and priorities based on our own personal experiences – and one is not more important than another. I think that taking action on supporting the unemployed and the sick are noble and admirable pursuits, no more or less important than supporting those who serve. And I completely support Mr. or Ms. Anonymous in taking action on those passions. I support both of those efforts in my own small way. But they do not hold a place in my heart like thegratitudecampaign does. And so I will continue to do what is important and meaningful to me, and allow others to do what is important and meaningful to them. And I trust that they are all good, and they all support each other in the end.

The point is, “should” carries with it judgment that is likely counterproductive to the intention behind the statement. I find that we are more productive when we lead by example; when we suggest things that people “could” do rather than telling them what they “should” do; and when we allow everyone the freedom and space to do what feels right for them in their hearts as we do what feels right in ours. Whenever I am tempted to tell someone what they “should” be doing, I ask myself the same question I ask others: What am I doing to take action on that “should”. And more often than not, when I am tempted to “should” someone else, I am really “shoulding” myself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Supporting the Troops or Supporting Peace

In my experience there seems to be a polarization in the United States; two ideas that most people see as mutually exclusive: supporting our Troops or supporting Peace. Just based on the feedback I’ve received to this campaign, it seems that the Support the Troops movement is typically associated with the conservative right, while the Support Peace movement is associated with the liberal left. And seldom do the two meet in the middle – to the point where many people will look at me cross-eyed when I suggest that you can do both -- as though it makes their brain hurt.

thegratitudecampaign is, at its core, about empowering people to open their hearts to one another. This may sound just cute as a sound bite, but when you really consider what that means it has pretty deep implications for those who choose to accept the challenge. When you take two minutes and really connect with what you are thanking our Troops for – devoting their lives, and in many cases sacrificing their lives so that we can be whoever we want to be – you cannot ignore the gravity and the magnitude of that gift. And when you look one of these people in the eye to express your gratitude for that, you cannot help but feel the exchange of emotion, and the humility of having someone that you don’t even know make that commitment and sacrifice for you. It seems to follow that if they have accepted this responsibility of protecting and defending our Freedom, we must honor and respect that by accepting the responsibility for when, where, and why we put them in harm’s way.

[ Now, before I go on I want to be clear that when I discuss the concept of war, or putting our Troops in harm’s way, I am speaking of war in general unless I specify otherwise – I am not necessarily commenting or making a judgment on our current war(s). The questions I raise need to be answered on a case-by-case basis. And they will likely be answered differently depending on which conflict we’re talking about. ]

Ultimately we, civilians, are responsible for how our government deploys our Armed Forces. Our President and our Congressmen represent us. They make their decisions based on what they believe we want. We tell them what we want with our voices (or lack thereof) and our votes (or lack thereof), and our lifestyle choices. When we tell them that we want cheap gas (and lots of it), safe travels, favorable international trade, and global influence, they must find a way to deliver. And they’ll deliver through force if a peaceful and cost-effective solution cannot be found. Our Troops bear the heaviest burden of that. So if we truly want to thank our Troops, what better way than to do what we can to work for Peace? To make sacrifices and find solutions in our own lives to solve these issues so that our Troops don’t have to solve them by force, and to keep them as safe as they keep us? We cannot claim to be supporting our Troops if we are sending them to war frivolously, or if we are not willing to make sacrifices in our own lives as they sacrifice for us.

Having said that, it’s important to recognize that sometimes in order to put a stop to war you have to go to war. It seems clear that we could not have stopped Hitler through diplomacy alone. Food shipments in Somalia, and recently in Haiti could not be delivered safely without the protection and order provided by our Troops. Because desperate people do desperate things, we often need to be willing to stand up and fight for we believe is right – to fight for Peace. And when those times come, we need the service of those who are willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

In the end, supporting our Troops or supporting Peace are not mutually exclusive ideas. To the contrary, we should support Peace because we support our Troops. And we should support our Troops because we support Peace. When our choices and decisions do both – as individuals, and as a country – that’s when we’re being the best version of ourselves.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On The Tragedy in Haiti

We here at thegratitudecampaign are heartbroken about the tragic events in Haiti on Tuesday. Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones, and those still looking.

It is worth noting, at the same time, how the worst of situations can bring out the best in us all. The international response to this crisis has been admirable, and we hope that it continues as a shining example of how we can love and support our fellow human beings regardless of their nationality, religious or political beliefs. Love and compassion know no borders.

We have made a small donation to help in the relief efforts, and we encourage you to consider doing what you can to help those in need. You can make a donation to the Red Cross by visiting http://www.redcross.org/.

You can also simply text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your wireless bill.

thegratitudecampaign is, at it's core, about showing people what's in your heart. What better time to do that than now?

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Christmas Spirit

I know that that headline might seem a little odd for a blog posted on January 12th. Christmas is over, right? Yes it is. The Christmas tree has been taken down, the Christmas music removed from our iPods to make room for more mainstream stuff, and the gifts are all placed in their new homes next to all the old stuff -- to the point that the newness of them has almost already warn off.

What I find interesting about this time of year and what I wanted to comment on is this:

How many of us watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special every year? And how many more just enjoy the Vince Guaraldi music from that special? In his song, “Christmas Time is Here” there is a line that says, “Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.” There’s another song in my rotation called “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas” by Jon Bon Jovi. And I’m sure that there are many more with similar sentiments that we all sing along with, fully entrenched in the Christmas spirit, and think, “Yeah – I wish every day could be like Christmas, too.” The warm, fuzzy feeling that we have at that time of year; the open-heartedness; the willingness to reach out to, and care for, and love our fellow man -- I know that that sounds sappy and sentimental now that we’re out of the Christmas season. But really, what’s so crazy about that idea? If we can be that way at Christmas (or Hanukah, or Kwanza, or Ashura, or Solstice, or whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year), what is stopping us from being that way all year? It’s amazing how quickly that feeling goes away, and we settle right back into our routines and our self-centeredness.

When we think of January, we tend to think of the New Year, and of resolutions. How many of us make resolutions that have anything to do with reaching out to other people like we did at Christmas? I’m guessing not too many. Resolutions tend to be about losing weight, reaching our financial goals, quitting smoking… which are all good things, of course. I’m just struck by how quickly we return to thinking about “me, me, me.”

So this week, I’d like to suggest a different kind of resolution. What if we resolved to show our Holiday spirit all throughout the year? What if we reached out to our fellow man, and showed compassion, and understanding, and respect to others every day of the year? What if we focus our attention on how much we are alike with the people around us, rather than how we are different, and we deal with those people with love rather than fear? It may sound sappy and idealistic, but I can live with that. I’d rather live with that than the alternative. And I’m man enough to be sappy and sentimental and be ok with it. I’ve had great role models who've been man enough to be loving and compassionate and serve their fellow man - a Captain, and a Master Sergeant just to name two. And I can follow their lead. How about you?