Updated: Jan 7, 2021
This one is for my veteran community, and it has a message for all of us about how to connect on a deeper level.
It's been popular for a while to say "Thank you for your service" upon learning that the person you are interacting with is a veteran or active service member. I am a veteran, having served 4 combat rotations with the Army's 75th Ranger regiment. I joined originally because I was lacking direction in my life and had a desire to be a part of something meaningful and larger than myself.
I've been out for about 8 yrs now and for the longest time I felt really awkward anytime anyone thanked me for my service. I would think - what am I supposed to say? You're welcome? No problem? Or go into some explanation of how I didn't do it for them, that I joined for myself?
I recently shared this with a Ranger buddy of mine who completely changed my perspective. He had also struggled with a genuine response until a friend of his suggested he just say, "Thank you for your support". So simple and yet so powerful.
See, I think one of the most concerning issues facing our world today is a (false) sense of separateness. When in fact, we are all connected and we're not so different from each other deep down. The challenge is that we all have stories and labels that keep us feeling like we are not part of the same whole.
Sebastian Junger says, in his book Tribe, “If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different—you underscore your shared humanity,”.
This brilliantly highlights the point I'm trying to make here, and begins to illuminate a really amazing possibility. The point is, I felt an energy of separation when I heard "Thank you for your service", of being put on a pedestal so to speak, of being different from others in the civilian world. Years of conditioning in the Special Ops community telling me I was "the best" and better than everybody else did not help either. Every time I heard "Thank you for your service" it was as if, in Junger's words, that reality was being underscored.
Here's the possibility. We can use this popular phrase to generate a deeper connection. For veterans, when you hear this, you can choose to respond in an appreciative way with something like:
Thank you for your support
Thank you for holding it down here while I was away
Thank you for doing your job too
This builds connection instead of separateness, as we begin to realize that we are all doing the best we can and have our own unique struggles and contributions to make in the world.
For civilians, if you are going to say this phrase - really mean it. In order to learn how to express genuine gratitude, we can turn to Marshall Rosenberg, author of 'Non-violent Communication'. In the book he touches on how to express appreciation in a way that powerfully serves everyone involved in the exchange. He explains that generalized appreciation is good, but not all that useful as a form of feedback. When you tell someone you think they're awesome, how do they know what to do more of to continue being awesome?
Here's the quick and dirty on how to share more genuinely impactful gratitude:
1. Be specific. For example, What do you appreciate about my service? What do you see in me or my character that you admire?
2. Share in what way this helps you. Did me serving in the military give you a sense of safety or security? Do you believe it allowed you more freedom to do what you do?
An example might sound something like this - "Thank you for your service. I admire your courage for doing a job like that. It's because of folks like you that I feel safer."
Even if you don't get into a deeper conversation with the veteran you are thanking, just having thought through these deeper ideas will lend more authenticity to the phrase "Thank you for your service".
I hope this will help veterans and non-veterans to consider how we can create more connection through even the most surface level interactions and being to address the deeper healing that must take place for our society to thrive.
Wishing you deeper connections on your adventure to freedom,