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


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Giving

As I was driving to my office today I saw a rather disheveled man standing on the street corner with a sign that read, “Disabled Veteran. Anything Helps.”

For those who don’t encounter the homeless on a regular basis, it might seem like a no-brainer to reach into your pocket and give this man something – anything – just to help him out.

For those of us who’ve lived in large cities and who’ve encountered pan-handlers on a daily basis, however, I’m sorry to say that it is easy to become somewhat jaded and distrustful. I’m not proud to admit that while living in downtown Seattle I became very skeptical of those asking me for handouts. Is this person really a Vet? Are they really going to use this money for food or shelter, or are they going to buy drugs or alcohol? Are they really trying to get off the streets and support themselves, or are they “career homeless”, living off the generosity of others? I work for my money; why should I just hand it over to someone who doesn’t?

What I would say to that now is, check in with your gut. What is your first instinct? I’m not talking about what your head says when you start asking yourself all of the questions I just listed above. I’m talking about what your gut says in that split second after you saw the person in need. If you’re like me it’s, “What do I have on me that I can give?”

Unfortunately, the head and the ego jump in pretty quickly and say, “I’ve only got 10’s and 20’s. I’m certainly not giving away $10. If I had a $1 bill, or some change, maybe; but I’m not giving this guy $10.” These are thoughts based in fear. Fear that I don’t have enough to give some of it away. Fear that I’ll encourage more pan-handling. Fear that this person isn’t being honest with me, and that I’m going to be made the fool for giving to them. And once I’ve processed all of those fears, I’m twelve paces past the person, and I’d have to turn around to go give them something; which I’m not likely to do. So I just keep on walking and try to forget that I just ignored this person, as though they weren’t worthy of even being acknowledged.

Love would give this person whatever I had on me. Love would look them in the eye and acknowledge their humanity. Love would have faith that what comes around goes around, and whatever I give to this person will come back to me tenfold. Love would see itself in that person’s eyes, and recognize that the vast majority of us are only a few paychecks away from being destitute ourselves. And that if we didn’t have friends and families to support us if and when that happened, we might be right where that person is. Love would give.

But if you want to stay in your fear place for a little while, consider these “what ifs”: What if this person really is a Vet? What if they served to defend your freedom, and now they find themselves living on the street? What if they’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury – wounds that you can’t see – they can’t get a job, and aren’t getting the support they need? What if their PTS has left them feeling disconnected from society, and being ignored for pan-handling is just driving them further into a black hole of depression that leads to alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide? How important is that $10 to you when compared to what this person might be going through?

For me, I’ll err on the side of being taken advantage of. I can afford it. Most of us can. If $10, a look in the eye, and a genuine wish for good luck might make the difference in this person’s life, I’ll take the risk that they’re not being honest with me, just in case they are. Either way, I’d rather come from Love than Fear. And it doesn’t have to be $10. It can be $5. Or $1. Or 50 cents, if that’s what you have. If you don’t have any cash at all, try just looking them in the eye and saying, “Hello, how are you doing today?” Many Veterans feel invisible. Homeless Veterans feel even more so. You might be surprised how meaningful it can be to be treated like a human being, even when no money is offered.

You can also pass along information for help. Homeless Vets can get help by visiting the National Coalition for Homeless Vets at http://www.nchv.org/ or calling their hotline at 800.VET.HELP. The call is free, and homeless Vets can get internet access at most public libraries.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On What We Thank Them For

I was having a conversation the other day with a psychologist, Kate Dahlstedt M.A. L.M.H.C., Co-Director of an organization called Soldier's Heart. Kate works with Veterans who are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress (remember, we dropped the D – “Disorder” part). She was telling me about some of the work that she’s doing with Veterans, and that some of them struggle with being thanked for their service at all. Some of them, according to Kate, feel that they did and saw some pretty horrible things in the course of their service in combat, and they don’t feel that those are things that we should be thanking them for.

Although I haven’t had that experience myself, I can understand how someone who has experienced what they’ve experienced might feel that way. So I thought that it was worth taking a moment to reflect on what exactly it is that we’re thanking them for when we thank them for their service. Of course, everyone has their own experience, and their own point of view on things, and we at thegratitudecampaign acknowledge and respect that. Here is our point of view:

We are free. Free to be the people that we want to be, to go where we want to go, to do what we want to do, and say what we want to say. As human beings those freedoms are our birthright; but they must be respected, and they must be defended.

When someone signs up to serve, they take an oath of service. The crux of that oath is that they promise to “…protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign, and domestic.” From that point on, throughout the duration of their service, where, when, and how they fulfill that oath is not completely up to them. Depending on the circumstances they are presented with, some do it heroically. Some do it quietly, almost anonymously. And it is the fate of some that they must endure, and perhaps on occasion participate in the most brutal aspects of being human over the course of their service. Not having walked in their shoes, those aspects are not mine to judge. But they all – every single one of them -- by taking that oath, have joined the ranks of millions of men and women who, for over 200 years, have served and sacrificed to defend Freedom so that the rest of us may live the way we want to live.

That, in its simplest terms, is what we thank them for.

For more information about Soldier’s Heart, please visit http://www.soldiersheart.net/

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Anonymity

I recently received an email from our web site from a… disgruntled viewer. Essentially, this person’s opinion was that our motivation for starting thegratitudecampaign was to inflate our own ego(s); that it was all about putting the attention on us, rather than on those who serve. And that if we truly wanted to support those who serve, we would do it anonymously. For instance, they argued, we might make a donation to a non-profit anonymously, or we might pay for a service person’s meal in a restaurant anonymously. This is one of the less frequent comments we receive. But it’s not the first time we’ve received it, so I thought it was worth exploring.

First, for the record, I have done both of these. I both personally, and on behalf of thegratitudecampaign, have made donations to non-profits anonymously. I have also paid for service personnel’s meals in public restaurants on several occasions. And I will tell you – if you’ve never done that, I highly recommend it.

One of the reasons that I love paying for meals anonymously is that the receiver – the service member – doesn’t know who paid the tab. They only know that there is someone at that restaurant who appreciates their service. What I love about that is that, if I did identify myself, they would know “here is one person who values my service.” But by not identifying myself, they are left to wonder that it may have been any one of the people in the restaurant. It may be that ALL of the people in the restaurant value their service. By identifying myself, they are valued by one. By not, they may be valued by all. And the truth is that they probably are. I get a bigger emotional charge out of them entertaining that idea than I ever could out of some sense of obligation that they might have to me personally for covering their meal.

That is the pro of anonymous giving. Here is the con:

If I give anonymously, the only two participants in that experience are me, and the receiver. Nobody else in the restaurant witnesses or is affected by that experience (with the one exception being the server who processes the payment). Nobody is inspired by that experience. And so the giving stops there.

You may have seen a commercial on television recently. Much to the chagrin of the ad agency who wrote it, I’m sure, I don’t recall who the ad was for. The commercial shows a series of events, presumably over the course of one day, wherein someone does something nice for someone else. In every scene, there is a third person who witnesses the act of kindness, takes note of it, and is inspired to perform an act of kindness themselves, which we see in the next scene. This process goes on, and on, and small acts of kindness continue to spread to people who have no direct relationship to the person we first saw do something nice. This is the beauty of NOT being anonymous -- kindness has a tendency to spread.

So… there is certainly something to be said for anonymous giving. I’m a huge fan, and I highly recommend it when and where it’s appropriate. For the record, our campaign is in no way, shape, or form about glorifying ourselves as the “thankers”. And while I’m not advocating any sort of need to purposefully call attention to yourself in expressing your gratitude to those who serve, I would ask you to consider that by allowing others to witness your act of kindness you might be an example to them, as well. You never know who you may inspire, and where that may take us all.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Killing Osama Bin Laden

This is a long one. I had a lot to say, I guess…

Like many of you, I assume, I awoke this morning to the news that Navy SEALS had finally located and killed Osama Bin Laden. I was on my laptop computer in the kitchen, and I exclaimed (just being honest - no editing here), “Holy S**t!” My wife asked what I was referring to, and when I told her that we had finally killed Osama Bin Laden, we both shared a brief moment of celebration.

I then pulled up a few stories online to get more details. While watching a story posted by the Today Show, I was struck by a clip of several Americans out on the streets smiling, laughing, and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”; celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. Celebrating death. It was a very sobering realization.

In a flash, I was reminded of a quote by President Roosevelt that I had included in a previous blog:

“I have a suspicion that when this war does end, we shall not be in a very celebrating mood, a very celebrating frame of mind. I think that our main emotion will be one of grim determination that this shall not happen again.”

I then remembered that in October of 1993 an American Blackhawk helicopter was shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia. I remembered watching on CNN as the people of Mogadishu stripped our dead soldiers of their uniforms and dragged their naked corpses through the streets, chanting and celebrating. At the time I thought, “You barbarians. I understand that you may hate the U.S. and our military. But how can you celebrate death in this way? How can you take so much pleasure in it?”

Are we any better than they as we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” simply because we don’t have a corpse to drag through our streets? And what if we did have his corpse? Can we honestly say we wouldn’t do the same thing? Tragically, I’m not sure…

Very quickly, I wasn’t in such a celebrating mood.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t have pursued Osama Bin Laden, or that I feel any regret about US forces having killed him. I, like many Americans, felt a sense of justice in the idea that we had finally “got him” after ten years of pursuit, and after the thousands of people his organization had killed or wounded over the years. I wrote in a previous blog that, while I support Peace, I also believe that there are times and places when we must fight for what we believe is right as part of our human experience. The fight against Bin Laden and Al Qaida, I believe, is unfortunately one of those times and places.

Interestingly – and not coincidentally, I suspect -- I recently received an email from a supporter of thegratitudecampaign that quoted Gandhi when he said that, “An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.” The hard reality for many of us Americans to accept is that, by killing Bin Laden, we’ve simply taken another eye. It is powerfully symbolic, but in the end it won’t solve anything. Al Qaida is still alive and well. And truth be told, killing Bin Laden will likely only fuel their fire. Someone will step into Bin Laden’s place and we will have to fight them, too. And because wars are ugly, and they tend to have collateral damage, we will only enrage more people in the region inspiring even more to join the forces against us. Remember – Osama Bin Laden himself was once an ally of ours in our fight against the Soviets.

Simply put, killing just begets more killing. It is a cycle that has no natural end... until someone makes the difficult and conscious choice to deny their instinct for revenge, and stop killing. Who will that be?

Gandhi’s answer was to turn the other cheek -- passive resistance. In the face of sometimes brutal oppression, he and his followers refused to fight. Would some form of that work with Al Qaida? I don’t know. My gut says no. Gandhi opposed an empire – a nation that had political and financial interests in controlling his country. Simply put, Al Qaida fundamentally hates who we are. They don’t have any political or financial incentives that I am aware of; they are not a nation that we can negotiate with. In this moment, I’m not sure that I possess the wisdom required to say how to stop the cycle. I just know I would like it to stop. So, while there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer at the moment I will continue to ask the question, even if only of myself.

What I do know is that, for me, today is not a day of celebration. It is a day of remembrance. It is a day to remember the 19,629 people who have lost their lives in Afghanistan; the families that our fallen Troops have left behind; the wives without husbands; the husbands without wives; the children without parents; the parents without children, the untold thousands who have and will return home with injuries both seen and unseen… the terrible price that has been paid by the many in the pursuit of the one.

It is a day to remember that we are all human beings sharing life on this planet – including Osama Bin Laden. While I don’t agree with his opinions or his methods of spreading those opinions, I acknowledge that he was a fellow human being doing what he thought was right, just as we believe that we are right. I don’t know how we deal with the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of this world when they seem bent on killing or being killed. Perhaps when they set those terms, then killing them is the only thing we can do to preserve our right to live free. But I hope that one day we will find another way. And I hope that, in our determination not to yield to their oppression, we don’t in the process sacrifice our humanity and compassion by embracing their hatred. While killing and dying may sometimes be necessary, I hope that we learn to stop celebrating it. For as long as we celebrate it, it will never stop.

And so, while I’m not sure that Bin Laden left us any alternative, I take no pleasure in his death. His death brings a chapter to a close, but it does not justify the 1,566 US Troops we’ve lost in the pursuit of him, nor any of the remaining Coalition Troops or civilians killed in Afghanistan. It does not justify a single death, except to the extent that it may assuage the grief of the families of those who’ve died in his pursuit more so than if those Troops had died without ever achieving their mission of killing or capturing him.

One thing is certain. The killing of Osama Bin Laden has left a void in the world. Where there was once a hatred and a passion for killing Americans, there is now a vacuum. And Nature abhors a vacuum – it must be filled with something. Who will fill it? And what will we fill it with?