Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” (C.S. Lewis)
At the time I joined my A Team in Vietnam, one of the NCOs was getting ready to leave. We all wore solid OD jungle fatigues, but he had some Army issued camouflaged fatigues, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, I think. He was leaving them behind, they were my size, and I coveted them. As I was preparing for my first patrol in the jungle, I was thinking I might wear them. He thought not.
He asked, “Have you ever been at the small end of a funnel?”
I got the picture.
Most of my life I had seen myself as “special.” I had won academic and athletic accolades. I worked hard to be special, to stand out, and thought I had earned the recognition. Didn’t they even call us, “Special Forces?”
Looking special in a hostile jungle is not that special. It is being a target, one time when looking special is ill advised. I wore the same tiger fatigues that all the other Strike Force members wore, to blend in. I became just one among a group.
There is something about landing on an unsecured LZ that churns my stomach. I wore a steel pot helmet, as did many of our Strike Force, and I carried my own radio, which at that time was the size and weight of a boot box full of rocks. One reason was I had this fear of reaching for a radio handset to call for help and seeing my radio carrier lying on a hot LZ. The other reason was that I had heard of snipers targeting officers as the man ahead of the radio carrier with the tall antenna sticking out of the pack.
Blending in, being one among, has become my style. I wear camouflage, today—no, not literally, but really. If anyone were pressed to describe what I was wearing, on most days they would be unable. I blend in, look like everybody else. At a NASCAR race, I wear racing fan clothes. At a Packer game, I wear green and gold. At a Christmas party, I might even wear a Santa hat. But, on campus, I wear jeans or khakis and a simple shirt unless I am representing NAU off campus. Then I wear a tie.
A young Veteran student asked a profound question last week which I paraphrase. How are we supposed to relate to these teenagers on campus? It is a fact that military and Veteran students do stand out on campus, and everybody knows it. What we do not know is what can be done about it. I’m working on that.
My wife, Nancy, also a Veteran, went to school after service. She not only found it difficult to relate to students, but to relate to some faculty. Having been a medic in an obstetric unit of an Army hospital, she had held and fed many newborns. When she wrote about instinctual infant behavior in a psychology class, the professor got upset with her, claiming that all behavior is learned. Nancy asked him when the infants had classes on grasping and suckling.
The question as to how Veterans returning to campus can relate to students and faculty is an important one. I suggest a much more important question is to ask how students, and especially faculty, can relate to returning Veterans.
I choose to blend in because I simply do not like to stand out. This is not humility, however. Humility is more than the superficiality of my clothes, something deeper and, at the same time, more subtle. Humility leaves little to no track. How, then, can we know humility when it finds us?
You know what? That is not for me to say. I can sometimes recognize humility in others, but to even look for it in myself is to drive it from me.
I can, however, see the tracks of false pride in me, usually in some form of intolerance. When the elevation of my status depends upon the diminution of the status of some other, humility has escaped me.
Sometimes I can see my own tracks of false humility. Putting myself down is no closer to humility than is pumping myself up or putting someone else down.
Humility, I think, is a gift of gratitude for who I am with tolerance for who others may be. May you find tracks of humility from others and tolerance from yourself.