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?