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


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.