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, September 14, 2011

And/Both: On The Peace Sign - Part 3

If you’re one who feels that we’ve beat this whole Peace Sign issue to death and it’s time to move on, I get that. I feel that a bit myself. But as is often the case debating one issue can bring deeper more fundamental issues to the surface and those are worth discussing, as well. So stick with me here for just a moment as we take this opportunity to discuss one such issue…

One of the things that stood out to me when reading some of the comments about our last few blogs about the Peace sign was how many of those who opposed our use of the Peace sign seemed to completely ignore the idea behind the sign and why we had it on our site, and focused simply on the surface issue of whether or not it was offensive to a handful of Vets. [And let me be clear – I do not say “handful” to be flip. I watch our numbers fairly closely, and the number of Vets who have voiced opposition to the sign compared to those who have not had an issue with it is extremely small.] Several people argued that if the symbol offended any Vets at all we should pull it from our site – regardless of the purpose behind it. They offered no alternative solutions, no new ideas that would achieve the same result in a different package – just “scrap it”, intended message and all.

The irony is that this is exactly the kind of black and white, my way or the highway thinking that created the tension around the sign in the first place. The anti-war protestors of the Vietnam era wanted only one thing: bring the troops home, and let the chips fall where they may. They didn’t care what the ramifications were. They had no alternative solutions to offer government officials that would address their concerns about the spread of communism in Southeast Asia without war. All they cared about was ending the war, and thus they created conflict in their own house. Many feel that in doing so they undermined the war effort, aided our enemies, and thus endangered our service members. For some Vietnam Vets, that is what the Peace sign represents – not peace itself.

One of the key aspects of what we’re calling Responsible Peace is in shifting to an and/both mentality as opposed to an either/or mentality: the idea that we can support our Troops and support Peace. Being productive as opposed to destructive or divisive in this environment requires a willingness to see, acknowledge, and address others’ concerns in order to find compromise wherein they will be willing to address yours. Compromise often requires an ability and willingness to focus on the “what” that you really want – not the surface details, but what is at the root of what you really want -- and to open your mind to “how” you might get what you want in such a way that allows your “opponent” to get what they want, as well.

In this case, we realize that some Vets are offended by the Peace sign due to their own unique experiences with it. And, again, it is not our intention to be disrespectful or to offend those Vets. It is our intention – what we really want – to support those Vets and to do everything in our power to ensure that future service members do not have the same experience that Vietnam Vets did. And we can see no greater way to support a service member than to do what we can to prevent sending them into battle in the future.

Part of the “how” for us in communicating that message is in combining the power of the Peace symbol with our logo, communicating the duality of our message -- the idea of supporting Peace as a means of supporting those who serve. As with most things in life, there is a cost/benefit analysis here in that, while that symbol may carry some bad connotations for a small number of Vietnam Vets, for hundreds of millions of people the world over the Peace sign simply means Peace. We have made the conscious and deliberate choice to risk offending a few in order to connect with and engage the many. Ideally, we would prefer not to offend anyone – especially Vets. But it is a risk we are willing to take in order to propagate a new social paradigm. We hope that any Vietnam Vets who are offended by the sign itself will choose to focus on the intent behind the message, and not on the package it comes in – to allow us the concession of using a symbol that holds a different connotation for them than it does for us for the benefit of getting what we all want, which is to support, protect, and defend those who serve as they do for us.

If we could all apply this sort of thinking on a more global scale – respect, understanding of intent, compromise -- would we ever go to war again? Just something to think about…

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On 9/11 + 10

Today I find myself searching for something profound to say. Something that will bring some solace on a day otherwise filled with grief and remembrance. I’m not sure why I feel responsible for that. The truth is that there is likely nothing that I can say that hasn’t been said, no words that I can offer that will change what was, and what has been since. And even if I could, I’m not sure that that would really serve anything. Sometimes, it is important and valuable to just sit with the grief, and not try to change it.

So I will say simply this: today is a day of remembrance. A day to remember those who have passed; both the innocent victims of a senseless crime, the heroes who died trying to save even more than they already had, and the heroes who have lost their lives to prevent more attacks from happening since or into the future.

It is also a day to remember and be incredibly grateful for those who survived and are still with us today.

I hope that everyone will take at least a few moments today to pray, meditate, grieve, think, just be silent - whatever label you want to put on it – for anyone and everyone touched by the events of 9/11; and if you were not personally touched by those events, to be grateful for that, and for those who serve to make sure that you are not touched by any such similar attacks now, or in the future.

If you were personally touched by the events of 9/11 – perhaps you lost a family member, a friend, a coworker, a fellow firefighter or police officer – I hope that you’ll take a moment today to close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Listen to silence. And in that moment, feel the subtle pressure on your chest of a warm embrace, and the moist sensation of tears on your shoulder from your fellow human beings sharing your grief today, and know that our hearts are with you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On The Peace Sign - Part 2

Based on the feedback we’ve received to last week’s blog, it seems that there are some strong opinions out there about the Peace sign and its role on our web site. Some of the feedback has raised some interesting issues around the topic that I think are worth discussing in greater detail. So I am going to address some of those issues in some follow-up blogs in the coming weeks, beginning today.

First and foremost, I think that it’s important to point out what I probably should have included in the first blog on this topic, and that is that it is not, nor has it ever been our intention to try to change how Vietnam Veterans feel about their experience including how they feel about the Peace sign and what it represents to them. Their experience is their own, and we have no judgments about that. Our message, and our web site, is targeted primarily at civilians and encouraging them to express their gratitude to those who serve in their own way. The Gratitude Sign is just one way of expressing gratitude. There are many others.

With respect to the Peace sign and its role on our web site, I’ll keep this first follow-up relatively short and say simply this:

On U2’s 1988 album Rattle and Hum, Bono introduces the song Helter Skelter by saying, “This is a song that Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” What I hear in that is, “We’re not going to let Charles Manson twist the meaning of this song, or ruin this song and what it means to us. We’re going to embrace it, and focus our attention on the positive aspects of the message in the song, and make it ours.”

In the late 60’s and early 70’s anti-war protestors (not to be confused with Peace activists) stole the Peace sign, and twisted its meaning for many Vietnam Veterans. We’re stealing it back.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On The Peace Sign

I’ve received a couple of comments recently from Vietnam Vets who are offended by a feature on our web site. It’s a sort-of hidden feature, which many of you have probably not even seen: If you roll your curser over our logo in the upper left side of the page, it turns into a Peace sign. Seeing this, and hearing that it may offend some Vietnam Veterans might lead one to ask, “Why is it there? What does the Peace sign have to do with showing gratitude to those who serve? Why would it offend Veterans? And if it does offend some Veterans, why would you keep it there?” I felt like it was time to answer some of those questions. Addressing the issue in a somewhat chronological order, I’ll begin with why it offends some Veterans. So first, a little history:

What we have come to know as the international symbol for Peace actually started in 1958 as a symbol for Nuclear Disarmament – not necessarily “peace”, per se. The symbol was designed by a British designer and artist for a nuclear disarmament rally, and is based on the semaphore signals wherein two flags at 45 degree angles = “N”, and two flags vertically = “D”. The sign was later adopted by anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. For many Veterans returning from Vietnam to a hostile and abusive public, the symbol became the sign for ungrateful, hypocritical, abusive and spoiled draft-dodgers who blamed the warrior for the war. Many Vietnam Vets refer to the symbol as “the footprint of the American Chicken.”

So why, if this symbol offends some Veterans, would we have it on our site? Well, first it is important to recognize that the meanings of symbols in our culture change and evolve over time and circumstance. The swastika, for instance, has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It can be found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, as well as Greek, Roman, Celtic, Baltic, and Slavic cultures, and was generally used as a sign of good luck. It is only since Hitler adopted it as a symbol for the Nazi party in 1920 that much of the world has come to see it as a symbol for fascism and racial prejudice. Perhaps one day, with enough time and distance from WWII, its meaning will shift back to what it was for the majority of its history. That is our hope and expectation for the Peace symbol. While that symbol may hold some negative connotations for Vietnam Vets who were disrespected and mistreated upon their return from Vietnam, for the majority of the world, and especially for younger generations who do not remember Vietnam, it is a symbol for Peace (not to be confused with anti-war).

So what does that have to do with showing gratitude to those who serve? Let me ask you this: If we, as civilians, truly want to support those who serve, wouldn’t the most supportive thing be to do everything that we can to prevent the need to send them into battle? To avoid risking their lives as best we possibly can? Now, let me be clear here: I’m not talking about the “bring the troops home and let the chips fall where they may” approach of the anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. I’m talking about civilians taking more personal responsibility for when, where, how, and why we send our troops into battle, and making different lifestyle choices that reduce the likelihood of going to war in the future. What those choices are, specifically, and how we can reduce the likelihood of war in the future without sacrificing our national interests and national security remains to be discovered. But it is a dialogue that we are opening up with the followers of our campaign, with government officials, and with academics and consultants. It is a dialogue whose time has come.

Generally speaking, and always with exception, those who have supported Peace in the past have not supported our Troops. And those who support our Troops typically have not been big supporters of Peace. Many see Peace as weakness – an unwillingness to fight for what is right. The truth is that we all want Peace. We just have different ways of achieving it. Some opt for the “turn the other cheek” approach, while others prefer to “walk softly and carry a big stick”. We are suggesting that we can support Peace because we support our Troops, and we don’t want to put their lives at risk frivolously or recklessly. We know that there are times and places when we must stand up and fight for what we as a society feel is right. We’d just like to see those times being fewer and farther between, until perhaps one day we will “fight no more forever.”

Forty years ago the Peace sign had mixed and somewhat contradictory connotations to it depending on an individual’s personal experiences with it. The sign is now experiencing resurgence in pop culture, appearing on t-shirts, shoe laces, jewelry, bumper stickers – pretty much anything that can be printed, stamped or forged – and it is generally viewed by most today as an international symbol for Peace. It is not, nor has it ever been our intention to offend or ignore those who served and suffered in Vietnam and upon their arrival home. Rather, it is our intention to encourage people to shift their thinking, to shift their awareness, and to consider serving those who serve by making the world a more peaceful place that does not require our service members to, as Douglas MacArthur put it, “…suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”