Why 'We' Is Better Than 'Us' and 'Them'

We like to separate things. We like to place things in neat little boxes. When it comes to military life, we especially like to compartmentalize 'us' vs. 'them.'

But then we complain about 'the space between' and  'the military civilian divide' and 'the less than 1%.' Those words create distance rather than connection. 'Us'  and 'them' are artificial constructs.

Trust me, I get it.

I get it each time my neighbor says, “Wow, it must be hard having your husband away for a year at a time. My husband goes on business trips some weekends and I know exactly how you feel.

I get it with every conversation with a school guidance counselor who thinks my eleven year old, missing his Daddy terribly, needs to just get over it and get his act together in class.

I get it when every moment of every day it is abundantly clear that folks just don’t have a damn clue what this military life is about.

Still, I choose “we” instead.

I choose to believe that there is no uncaring general public. There is only an unenlightened one. I choose to educate them.

Our stories aren’t heard only if we refuse to tell them. I choose to tell our families’ stories.

Our needs aren’t recognized only when we fail to admit that there are gaps in the services and supports our families need to thrive. I choose to shine a light on the dark places.

Does this conscious attention to the choices I make have earth shattering, fireworks exploding, and choruses singing consequences? Probably not, although I’d love to see that show.

Choosing to work as "we" matters.

But still it matters in the places I go and for the people with whom I interact.

It matters to the wounded veteran I spoke with last week. He’s excited about the service dog he’s expecting in the next few months. But he’s worried that if he can’t provide food for himself, he’ll be unable to properly care for his new family member.

When I shared his story and worked to see how we could as a collective meet his needs, I was blown away by the response. There’s now food in his fridge, and all the goodies a puppy could ever need to feel at home on its way. And there’s a seasoned veteran reduced to tears that anyone would care at all for him. For him, it mattered in a big way.

Here’s the point where you accuse me of warm fuzzy, granola eating, kumbaya singing nonsense. I get that too. We’re not going to hold hands and flick our lighters and magically make the big scary monsters (like budget deficits, sequestration, and reduced benefits) go away. There’s no quick fix for the real fears and problems on the line for military families.

But “we” – better informed general public – are more likely to be mindful of and willing to fight for military families when those families are real to us and part of “us” and not “them”.

 Randi Cairns is one of the coauthors of Stories Around the Table, the  AFI 2014 New Jersey National Guard Spouse of the Year and the Founder/Executive Director of Home Front Hearts.

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