The Importance Of Creating Your Own Narrative
By Ernest McClees
Rising above the distraction of all forms of media and entertainment is not only healthy but it might save your life. This is important for anyone, however, it is especially important for a military veteran. As simple as it sounds, there is a problem. Society expects things from you before knowing you, and the same society that celebrates the idea of your service will also marginalize you for your service. This phenomena is nothing new and is woven into the patchwork of social learnings so tight that it is perpetuated without a thought or consideration of consequence.
The pace of the modern, consumer based life leaves individuals for little reflection about their own lives let alone the lives of others around them. This is where it is important for the former military service member to be mindful about their own quality of life and its’ trajectory. Establishing well thought goals, approaches, and people who honor your path will immediately separate you from the vast majority who never attempt accomplishments and with those who attempt and never follow-through. An understanding of common humanity with a “can-do” self sufficiency will serve an individual far past listening to everything a person is force fed by the fear driving marketers who are set on creating mass hysteria to drive sales.
Someone reading this might say, “ But where I am from people respect veterans and their service.” Of course they do, they have a parade once a year for you, their bumper stickers read “ Support the Troops,” and even though stranger do not know what you did in the military they want to thank you for your service. Ultimately people think they are doing well by you and have the best intentions but really the best thing they can do is respect your story. The story of each man and woman who has chosen to give a portion of their life to be in the service of others and work for some of the most
demanding organizations that exist. By and large, you must guide others around their pre-conceived idea of your history and who you are.
I once likened the publics summation of military veterans into two categorizes: The hero narrative and the broken veteran narrative. In short, the public uses veterans as a blind form of hero worship, creating an idea of people worthy of historical epics. The other view the public refers to is one of a person who has had a hard time adjusting back to civil society. The idea of physical and mental problems run the spectrum from mild to dangerous. However, recently I read an article by a collaborating colleague Michael Kim in the online magazine Mindful Word. Kim added depth to my old view and divided public opinion into three categories of veterans. Kim is a veteran himself and has worked in several different capacities for and with military veterans. His understanding of the public’s view yielded, The ‘I Made it Vet’, The ‘Rambo Crazy Vet’ and the ‘Lazy Homeless Vet.’ This is an interesting break down of the trifecta of mass- media hypnosis.
The ‘I Made it Vet’ has become popular among some businesses, society and the veteran communities. According to Kim the image hovers around the elite, good looking vet that rides a wave of success and in doing so is able to actively suppress their readjustment problems. This is an insightful view as it is part of the human make up to bury trauma and the public loves to see success from the elite special operation warrior. As long as they are willing to live life at a pace above the average person the public will support the idea of their success. The moment that the public realizes that they are a normal human being, the glitter will fade.
The ‘Crazy Rambo Vet’ is highlighted in Kim’s article as the veteran who refuses to readjust to society. This is true, however, I would like to point out a little dimension in this scenario. The ‘Crazy Rambo Vet’ is not necessarily a male only or combat veteran outcome of military service. Society wants to hear stories about Parris Island, SEAL selection, and Special Force Selection and Assessment. However, society rarely is interested in how the military has not invested in retraining soon to be veterans for the civilian world. Many service members end up experiencing a heavy disproportion in the care for reintegration into society. Also, there is the question of the public recognizing a warrior class in the United States as a separate class of people based on their experiences in the military. Society is not ready to recognize that not everyone has contributed equally for the good of true egalitarianism. Equally, society has yet to realize that they play a role in truly welcoming and reintegrating post-service people into everyday life.
Lastly, the ‘Lazy Homeless Vet.’ In The article Kim boils down the labeling of a homeless vet flawlessly. He writes that it is easier for society to label someone as “lazy” than to accept the responsibility for turning their back on someone who sacrificed for the perceived greater good. Society blames the veteran for not readjusting while society sweeps their own problems under a rug. It is easier to call someone lazy than to help them, consider whats behind a problem, understand how trauma impacts a person, moral injury, or accepting that a veteran might be disillusioned with the public and their way of life.
Where might a veteran rise above the short comings of the public and the mix of praise and distancing? The direct answer is that you should create your story in anyway
you see fit for you. You are entitled to bring the best quality of life possible to yourself. Not getting caught up in the popular zeitgeist or predetermined narrative means knowing where you are, where you are going, and how you are getting there. The courage that you called upon to enlist or get commissioned is now the type of courage you must use to correct others who believe they know your story as a veteran. While being a part of the military might be part of your story, there is more to your story and you are at the helm to project the type of life you wish to lead. Be mindful of your actions and life because the vast majority do not. However, you have already proven that you are willing to do more than the majority.