Where Do You Find Inspiration?

I know it has been quite a long time since I posted anything but my blog muse has been having anger management issues so the things I wrote, I really could not post.

As many of you know, recently the media has been continuing the “violent veteran/soldier narrative.” This makes me absolutely crazy. But as I struggled with biting my tongue, then writing angry blog posts, then deleting those posts before publishing and began the cycle all over, I realized as I would check my twitter feed and my facebook newsfeed that the majority of pages and people that I follow for the purpose of helping me find inspiration and keeping me grounded have been posted by current and former military.

I have found that those who do not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, those who have faced trauma and death and survived, are the most amazing people I have known and have the most valuable messages to share.

Our experiences help shape us into the people that we are today. Yes, there are some aspects of my past that I wish I could have avoided but then I would not be who I am today. So we all must struggle to find our strength, we sometimes have to lose everything before realizing how anything is truly possible, sometimes we must speak for those who have no voice. And when in the presence of true bravery and heroes, I find myself shamed that I did not volunteer.

And while my life is very far from perfect, it could be a lot worse and with that, I look to those others for the inspiration to keep going when it feels like too much. I look for the laughter in life to help lift my spirit. I look to those who have fought, have sacrificed, have struggled, and have the courage and fortitude to continue on when others have not. I find that in our military, past and present. I am truly humbled by the sacrifices that they make, that their families make, and that those who are no longer with us have made. I value my freedom and I pray for our soldiers and veterans every day. I know what this life could be if we did not have them defending our freedom and rights. I support them any way I can.

So when I struggle, I think about Jason Redman’s sign on the door, I think about Dakota Meyer discussing his suicide attempt, I think about Bryan A. Wood’s struggle with coming home and becoming a civilian again, I think about Marcus Luttrell and all he endured with Operation Red Wings and he continued on with the teams and continues on with the Patriot Tour and the Lone Survivor Foundation to make sure that everyone remembers, I think about the family of Michael P. Murphy and the life he lived before he gave it in defense of our freedoms, I think about Christopher Heben chasing down the gunmen in Ohio before seeking medical attention for his gunshot wound, I think about Mylee YC and her battle with breast cancer and PTSD, I think about Christopher Van Etten and Alex Minsky and Bobby Henline and others who now have combat-modified bodies. I think about those whose names I do not know, those who I’ve heard about from these survivors and from others. I think about the men at my Grandpa’s VFW, those who shared their stories and pictures and their time, and who turned me into their little mascot. I can think of so many examples of soldiers and veterans doing good, living the life of a true role model and hero, yet their stories go untold by the media.

This is where my inspiration comes from. This is from where I draw my strength. So when I hear about stories talking about correlations between PTSD and violent soldiers and veterans or that ridiculous New York Times op-ed attempting to correlate veterans with white supremacists, I am offended. I get angry. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and say, YOU ARE WRONG! And they are wrong. But we don’t see those corrections. We don’t see coverage of those who stand up and say, “you got the facts wrong.” Correlation does not imply causation. I teach this to my students. The media and the author of that New York Times op-ed needs to learn this. They need to realize that their poor coverage and false information has an impact in society. It encourages employers not to hire veterans, it further stigmatizes PTSD, combat stress, and anxiety leading to the horribly high numbers of veteran and soldier suicides, it leads to homeless veterans, it leads to veterans languishing in the red tape of bureaucracy only to die waiting for an appointment at the VA, it leads to politicians repeatedly calling for armed action and sending our brave men and women into battle, yet cutting funding or denying funding or capping funding for treatment when they come home.

It makes me angry, it makes me rage, but I can turn it around and use it as a teaching moment. I can use my meager resources to get the facts out, to organize for change and to inform others to not be passive consumers hypnotized by the sensationalizing media, but to critically analyze, to use critical thinking skills to get the facts, to question, to say “we are not doing enough, we must do more for those who sacrifice for our freedom,” to become involved in the political process, to call out media outlets and hold them accountable for shoddy research and reports, to exercise those rights that I hold dear, those rights that so many have and continue to fight and die for. I know what I do is not enough, it will never be enough to truly express the depth of my gratitude for their sacrifice but I will continue on, I will continue to support them in any way, no matter how small, I will continue to fight for them, I will continue to make sure their stories live on and that those who have sacrificed have not done so in vain.

So as we approach Memorial Day and honor those who gave all, think about where you find your inspiration and look at some of the amazing people out there sharing messages of survival, hope, love, faith, and tolerance. You may find yourself surprised at how many of them currently or at one time have worn a military uniform.

Exciting News for film “Murph: The Protector”

I am so excited about this. Back in March, I saw this film during one of its limited showings and I was so deeply moved by it, I could not stop telling everyone I know about it. See my earlier post:Lt. Michael P. Murphy and Other Role Models.

On Veterans Day, it was announced that “Murph: The Protector” is under consideration for 4 Academy Awards: Best Feature Documentary, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Film Editing. It is so well deserved.

In addition, “Murph: The Protector” will be available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital platforms on January 7, 2014.

Currently, you may pre-order the DVD or Blu-Ray versions at Wal-Mart for a discounted price.

It is so very important that we do not forget the sacrifices that our military and their families make. I am happy that his legacy will live on in this film and that he will be an inspiration for generations to come.

 

Veterans Day 11 November 2013

As many of you know, I am a proud supporter of our military and veterans. I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices that they make and am so grateful for the freedom that they fight to defend. Last year, I spoke about the fact that many schools have opted out of celebrating Veterans Day, which I still find truly appalling, especially when they take time to celebrate Columbus Day, a day celebrating a man for bringing about the genocide of Native Americans and introducing slavery to North America (click here for last year’s blog post).

When we look at US society, what does it tell us about how we treat our veterans? Well, we celebrate by offering an optional Federal holiday (see last year’s post containing my fury over schools opting out of recognizing Veterans Day) and offering a multitude of sales for non-veterans and service members. There are those companies that offer free meals and discounts to veterans and active duty military on Veterans Day but those don’t nearly stand out to me as much as the companies that offer discounts throughout the year. Yes, Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11, but is that the only day we should thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice? HELL NO! As a rule, veterans are not looking for handouts and charity. Recognition for the service and sacrifices that they made mean so much more. Letting them know that they matter, that they may have seen and experienced atrocities that civilians cannot even come close to imagining and survived is just one of the ways in which these men and women are heroes. But even more importantly, treating them like human beings, talking to them like normal people and not some media-created scary figure that will at any moment freak out in a fit of violent PTSD.

The truth is any exposure to trauma can lead a person to suffer from PTSD. It is not something that only occurs among the military although the media over-represents military in their PTSD coverage. Not everyone with PTSD engage in violent behavior, although again our popular media over-represents the correlation between violence and PTSD. Would you stop buying ice cream in the summer months when you learn of the strong positive correlation between ice cream sales and homicide rates in the summer months? No (that is a spurious correlation ignoring the important variable of temperature and remember correlation does not equal causation). Thus we should not treat our veterans and military with suspicion because of the popular media’s skewed reporting of information.

We are not doing our veterans any favors by perpetuating the myth of the violent and out-of-control veteran. In truth, it reflects very poorly on us civilians as well because rather than embrace the men and women who sacrifice so much for our freedoms, we would rather turn our backs to them and keep them segregated from society whether it is through unemployment, homelessness, or discrimination of other forms. Being a veteran should be a badge of honor not something a person seeks to hide for fear of discrimination. Here is a blog post by Kate Holt that was posted on 6 March 2012 that is worth reading: “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold.”

We have a long way to go in our society regarding the treatment of our military and veterans. We civilians should be embracing the skills and characteristics that are honed and necessary for military service. We should remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We should help our military and veterans reintegrate into society by accepting their perspectives as valid, by acknowledging the strength they have to endure, by respecting their service and sacrifice, and by integrating them into jobs and schools. We can learn so much from these brave men and women and the fact that society chooses not to is very disappointing. As an educator, it is my duty to facilitate the learning of my students and foster the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in life. As a society, we have a duty to accept all members of society and not turn our backs on those who we ask to make the ultimate sacrifice only to revile them for their actions when they return survivors.

I try to make it a point to speak with at least one veteran a day besides my family members and friends who have and are currently serving. I try to ensure that issues that affect our troops and veterans remain at the forefront of our consciousness by sharing information about some of the amazing programs out there, including but not limited to Wounded Warrior Project, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, Operation Gratitude, and The Gary Sinise Foundation. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude for the freedom that I enjoy.

To the veterans and active-duty military I offer my most sincere thank you for your service and sacrifice. I know that I would not be here today if it were not for you and I would not enjoy the life I live if it were not for your sacrifice. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. Stay safe and be well.

Winning At All Costs Should Not Be An Acceptable Societal Value

I am a sports fan. I am a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan and Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Across professional sports world-wide, there is the issue of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. These may be in the form of steroids, human growth hormone, various stimulants, etc. What I cannot comprehend is that as fans we tolerate this form of cheating. There is no other way to look at someone who uses performance-enhancing drugs/substances other than that they are cheating. The players that I admire the most are those who work hard every single game and practice and who treat their fans well. It sickens me to hear about kids who catch a ball at a professional game only to have security come by to take it away or when you have to pay to meet a professional athlete for an autograph. It makes me nuts. These are the people that society holds up as role models and sadly so many lack the values that role models should hold. The true role models and heroes of society are found in our military, first responders, health care professions (not administrators but nurses and doctors), educators, and so on. You get my point. Here we have individuals who are chosen to compete in the professional arena, given an unbelievably high salary (notice that I did not say earn), and other perks “just because” they are a professional athlete. Explain to me the reasoning why someone who earns $30 million a year gets free shoes while our veterans find themselves homeless and unemployed upon leaving the military? Why does someone who works one or more jobs earning minimum wage have to shell out the money for shoes when an athlete who earns $30 million a year gets the freebie? Does anyone else see this as wrong? But I digress.

Our society holds these professional athletes up as heroes and role models and yet they are allowed to cheat. Not only cheat, but get inducted into the hall of fame of said profession. They keep their money and fame with maybe a slap on the wrist.

In general, I am not a fan of zero tolerance policies. They do not allow for the individual to build internal behavior management skills and they do not account for individual circumstances. However, I feel the advantages of large scale behavior modification of a group, insuring consequences, and insuring uniform consequences for all offenders outweigh the negatives when it comes to performance-enhancing drug use and professional athletes. Every time I see a professional baseball player throw a hissy fit, I want him to go and pee in a cup to check for steroid use. Every time, a professional basketball player starts fighting like suddenly they are playing ice hockey, they need to pee in a cup to check for steroid use. If you fail, that is it. No three strikes rule, no warnings, you are done. You are out! You are out of the profession, you are exempt from endorsement deals, any records you hold should be removed and wiped clean, and you are exempt from induction into the hall of fame. Pete Rose is prohibited from induction into the baseball hall of fame because of his gambling past. Why is gambling considered less honorable that substance use? Both involve cheating (if Pete Rose influenced players based on bets he placed). Why is there a zero tolerance policy against gambling but not substance use and cheating? Using corked bats is cheating. The moment Sammy Sosa’s bat broke revealing cork, that should have been the end of his career. Barry Bonds has no business holding records when he was using performance-enhancing drugs.

Bottom line, it is cheating. What message does this send our kids when it is okay for professional athletes not only to cheat, but to earn big bucks because of it? In light of the sad values that our society seems to be pushing forth, it is unsurprising that I have encountered more cases of plagiarism among my students in the past 2 years compared to my overall 14 years of teaching experience. The message becomes one of: use whatever methods necessary to earn as much money as possible and win. Try not to get caught but if you do, hire expensive attorneys to get out of it. What happened to accountability? What happened to honor? Maybe I expect too much of the role models in our society. Perhaps that is why I do not call any celebrity or professional athlete a hero. I reserve that treasured honor for those who sacrifice themselves for the greater good, those who dedicate themselves to the bettering of society, not the inflation of a personal savings account.

I know it seems that I am picking on baseball, but I am the first to admit that cheaters are found in all sports including my beloved ice hockey and American football league. If it turned out that my favorite player was found to be using performance-enhancing drugs, I would want him/her to suffer the consequences.

As a sports fan, I am very disappointed that the professional leagues are not taking a harder line on cheating. I do not believe that winning at any cost is a value that our society should hold dear. The ramifications of such a value are seen daily from the world economic crisis (thank you CEO bankers for screwing up the world economy and keeping your bonuses while fleecing American tax payers of their hard-earned money and homes; the CEOs & other top-level administrators should not only be fired, but be forced to repay the taxpayers and serve prison time) to educators dealing with issues of plagiarism to children dealing with bullying to the overall societal acceptance of hazing as an appropriate way to induct members into a group. We need to bring attention to true heroes of our society. We need to place more emphasis on life-affirming activities and values rather than on individualistic and materialistic values. At what point are we going to say “Enough!” to the cheaters of society and demand accountability and restitution? Based on the current trends, not soon enough.

 

Lt. Michael P. Murphy and Other Role Models

Today, I traveled 80 miles to see the film “Murph the Protector” and it was well worth the commute. This film is a documentary about the life and death of US Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy who was also awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. After listening to family, friends, and fellow military personnel discuss this young man’s truly inspirational life, as I drove home, I found myself becoming increasingly embittered. I’m bitter because if you stop a child or teen and ask who their role models are, the likely answer would be Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Snookie, Lindsey Lohan, Justin Bieber, and Barry Bonds among other celebrities and professional athletes. However, what is the reason for their fame? Definitely not their personal behavior nor the example they set for others. Who are the heroes of our children? The rich, spoiled, bullying, cheating, and self-involved individual. Altruism, teamwork, sacrifice, loyalty, honesty, tolerance, and community-building are all foreign notions to so many of our young people. Our society is not improving or progressing in a positive direction.

We need to hear more about true role models, individuals who embody the ideas of teamwork, sacrifice, tolerance, loyalty, justice, community-building and hard work. We should be hearing more about true heroes, our first responders who risk their lives every day for a yearly salary equal to a monthly mortgage payment for many celebrities. We should be hearing about nurses who work long hours with little support in an effort to keep patients comfortable. We should hear about our soldiers who sacrifice not only their physical existence but their emotional well-being. Our heroes are not the ones that we see on television, in movies, and online, they are not the ones earning even a middle class wage much less the exorbitant earnings of the celebrities. They are the bystanders that step in to protect the bullied and victimized. They are the educators that keep our children grounded in the reality that while we live with freedom, the cost was mighty.

With the media’s continual obsession with negative images and stories about our military, our first responders, our teachers, our nurses, and whistleblowers, the message to all is clear: be individualistic and keep to yourself, those who need help are undeserving. This is not a message I want the next generation believing. I want to see a new generation of courageous individuals who will sacrifice individual interests for the benefit of the group, who will work as a team, who will stand up against injustice and intolerance. I want to see a generation of accountability. People being aware that their choices have consequences and even if you are wealthy, if you break the law, you should expect to receive the same punishment as those who are not wealthy. Instead of ignoring or assaulting the homeless and poor, embrace our social contract and offer help even if it is simply to give the individual  a pair of clean socks.

We must support our heroes. We must make them visible even if they themselves shy away from the spotlight (in fact, many true heroes do). We must remember them, their lives, their accomplishments, their determination, their heart, and their legacy along with their sacrifice.

Thank you to our soldiers, our veterans, our first responders, our nurses, our educators, our whistleblowers, and other heroes. I am humbled by your sacrifice. I owe my freedom and security to you. You will never be forgotten.

I would also like to extend a special thank you to the filmmakers, family, friends, and fellow military personnel who participated in the creation and distribution of the film “Murph the Protector.” Thank you for sharing the life story of a truly inspirational and remarkable young man whose bravery and sacrifice should never be forgotten.

For more information including a list of Medal of Honor recipients and their stories, visit the US Army Center of Military History