Two Veterans sit across from you. One is twenty six years old, he served in the Army for eight years during the Global War on Terror. The Veteran sitting to his left, is a bit older, having served eight years in the Navy during the 1980’s. What can you say about their experiences and service?
The ability to size up someone’s experiences or likely experiences based on reading context clues is something we all imagine we can do from time to time. It’s one superhero talent that sits dormant in all of us, randomly it awakens and in our (hopefully) momentary hubris, we project an illusion onto another person, filling in the blanks with our own “insights.” It is ultimately..a trap; reading the clues presented or inferred is easy, and fast, but dangerous in its own right, especially when the result is you lose your ability to actively and objectively listen to a Veterans story.
This isn’t relegated to personal interactions with Veterans. All too often companies and charities do the same thing. Waving the banner of social justice or corporate social responsibility, agencies and companies shoot for the easy pitch. One Veteran story, one Veteran family = all Veterans stories, all Veterans families. The Veteran community, twenty-one million strong is becoming infomercial fodder for a public that cherishes Veterans but doesn’t really know how to discover or understand who they are.
An excellent blog by Tom Aiello in the Huffington Post warns of this this very concept, by asking that we check ourselves to ensure we are treating (relating) to Veterans as people and not caricatures.
Aiello, references culture as the key to combating poor understanding and connection with Veterans. He is correct, developing organizational cultural competency around Veterans should be fundamental for any company, agency, or charity working with Veterans, particularly those those who have Veterans specific programs.
So, what can you say about the experiences and the service of the Veterans mentioned earlier? Do you feel you can discuss and even debate this question? If so, you’re likely on your way to Veterans cultural competence. Can you walk up to anyone else at your organization and discuss it with them? If so, your organization is on it’s way. If you’re lost, we need to talk.