A Soldier’s Story of Service, Sacrifice and Shame

He wanted to be tested, challenged to be the best and rise to the occasion. So he did what most would not do.  He enlisted in the Marines.  fall-2010-dc-221

Others tried to talk him out of it, employing a variety of arguments, all well-meaning but ineffective.  They didn’t understand his motivation, goals or strategy.  So he trudged on.    They supported him as best they could, still puzzled why he chose this path.

He was proud to be a Marine, just as others like him were proud to be a Sailor, Airman or Soldier.  He was serving his country by challenging himself to do more and be more.  He readily accepted his role that required sacrifice so others could be comfortable. Everyone who serves or has served has different motivation but each of their stories include service to their country and a healthy dose of sacrifice.

But all too often today, those stories include an unwelcomed element, shame.

He was challenged and responded.  But was his performance enough?  Were  his actions adequate, acceptable or admissible?  If so, that was unacceptable.  He wanted and needed more.

Others didn’t understand his quest, challenge or expectations.  Maybe that is why they never enlisted.  Maybe that is why they never wore the uniform.  He refused to settle for an ordinary life.

There never is a good time for that knock on the door.  

The movies often depict two officers, grim-faced and perfectly professional but devoid of emotion, delivering news that recipients require no words to understand beyond, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Their only solace is that his last action was heroic.  They hope he died participating in a war that mattered, a sacrifice for solid principles.  fall-2010-dc-206

If only that were the case.  Unfortunately he died in a war no-one wants to hear about because their is no honor, bravery or acts of heroism.  Yet, many fall alongside of him every day, week and year.  The battle rages yet the media doesn’t want to investigate or broadcast it because their audience doesn’t want to hear it.  

We salivate with stories filled with overcoming challenge.  We writhe in anger when villains violate the innocent, cold-heartedly manufacturing victims.  We are compelled to watch these movies and hear about those stories.

But not with these stories.

Why?

Because it is a story of shame.  

The stories of shame have no overcoming. They are told in hushed tones with well-chosen language that softens the reality.

The truth is, this Marine, like many other sailors, soldiers and airmen died in the wrong war.  img_1302

We don’t know how to process that.

“It shouldn’t have happened.” 

We want someone to blame with the loss of a loved one.  We need an enemy to hate.  For our story to make sense, this tragedy needs a villain that cheated us.

We don’t know how to tell or hear this story.

We don’t know what to do with these stories of shame. Neither does the media.

Suicide is a scary story because the one we loved is us.  He (or she) is both the hero and the villain.  They died not from an enemies weapon but from their own action.

They took their own life because they could see no other way out of the hell of their inner battle.

That is what we don’t understand and cannot fathom.  That twist in the plot was not anywhere in the script.  So like the befuddled journalist, we cannot investigate it.  We don’t know where to start or how to interpret the facts we find.

No hero commits suicide.  

So does that cast our loved one as a villain?  Are they their own worst enemy?  Were they the ones who couldn’t cut it.  Were they one of “them” that we dare not speak of?

These are stories of shame because we feel compelled to blame.  Someone must be guilty and, if guilty of a fatal act, there must be shame assigned.  depression-1250870_1920

Guilt is the guilt assigned for doing something wrong.  Shame, however, is the feeling of being a bad person, saturated with a flawed spirit.  Where guilt is tranactional, shame sears the spirit.  “I did something wrong” becomes “I am a bad person.”  

Shame is the smelly and slimy gunk that sticks to our shoes.  It is beyond inconvenient, embarrassing and disgusting.   It is a story one can never live down.  It is hopeless.

3 Reasons Compassion Leads to Disruption

Despite what others say, we cannot just act like it never happened. We cannot just “forget it” or “let it go.”

The stories of shame, and every story is different, involve thinking we could have done better and demanded we were better.  But we did not and could not.  “So now what do we do?”   

We are losing about one active military member a day to these stories of shame.  We are losing over 80 young people a week to these same stories of shame.  Many more are killing themselves slowly with alcohol, drugs or diet in part because we do not know how to tell our stories in a way that matter.  This marine lost his life because he could not live up to his expectations and felt shamed.  In a variety of other ways, many others lose their lives the same way.

They don’t know how to reframe their stories of shame.  Neither do we.  So we are destined to continue living the stories and suffering the inevitable ending.  Their story becomes our story.  

No wonder we don’t want to talk about suicide.  It is a personal tragedy, a family shame and a national embarrassment.  It is our personal and national story of shame.

Reframe Your Story

Everyone writes their own autobiography yet we live as if someone else is the ghostwriter.  We mistakenly believe that someone else is doing the casting and we are left off stage as they play out the drama of our life.   We dream of being the hero but feel more like the victim or even the villain.  Even in our sacrificial acts of heroism, we feel like we should have done more.

First, Change the Plot.  

Heroes have a mission and everything in the story supports that mission.  On the Veteran’s Day, ask yourself, “What is my mission?”

Second, Listen to the Stories.

Those who serve in the military, especially in the heat of war, see, hear and do things that civilians cannot fathom.  While many of those stories are wound into yarns to entertain audiences small and large, there are stories that many don’t want to hear. Recognize that those stories exist.  Listen for what is said and what is left in the shadows.  Listen for the hidden pain.

7 Ways SMART Leaders Remember those who Served and Sacrificed 

Third,  Help them share their stories.  

The stories of shame, with the appropriate assistance can become stories of incredible aim and ultimate gain.  We leverage their leadership power (and our own) when we help those lost souls find their voice, purpose and mission for life. They transition from the battlefield to the workplace when shame is obliterated and guilt is minimized, shifting the focus from past to present to future.  This shift allows them to leverage their leadership power, doing what they previously thought was impossible.  No longer followers of a flawed script, now they can write their own story of radical change and disruptive innovation.  That becomes the inspirational leadership story.

Check out these resources.  The Homefront Foundation  in Tampa, Florida works to help veterans tell their stories in meaningful ways.  PWR Unviersity works to help veterans leverage their power.

Be Bold

Be Decisive

Become the Disruptive Leader

I am Dr. Loren Murfield and I work with aspiring and emerging leaders helping them tell their stories in a weekly blog, articles, white papers, online courses or a book.    If that is your desire, contact me today.

Checkout my online leadership platform.  Power University

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(c) Murfield International, Inc.  2016

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