Dear Military Community: I Know Why You're So Mean (and I'm Sorry)

dear military community
A couple say goodbye before deployment. (U.S. Army/Joseph Armas)

It drips with hate and disgust. Facebook spouse support groups, those horrible bullying sites, social media feedback on articles and the comment section of any given military spouse blog site, including this one, are all perfect examples. It's called "bullying" at it's worse or just "typical comment behavior" (as if that's an excuse), but it still gets explained as people hiding behind the relative anonymity of the internet.

And while it would be easy for me, so often the target of your harsh words, to be hurt and angry myself, I instead feel deeply for you.

Dear commenter: I see your hurt. And I feel mine, too.

A new article in Business Insider examines the low morale among service members. Pay and benefits woes as well as low confidence in leadership has brought surveyed service members down to an all time low -- 52% are "pessimistic about their future in the military" according to a USA Today poll from this spring. The story doesn't talk about the spouse community, but it isn't a stretch to say that what is felt by our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines is felt by us, too. Our morale is at an all-time low, and our reaction to it makes a lot of sense.

It's pretty simple: the military community -- that's you and me -- is deeply weary. And being tired makes you mean, whether you want to admit it or not. It also makes you really sensitive to others' meanness, even confusing criticism with bullying. (By the way -- they are different).

Low morale is a vicious cycle, regardless of why it starts or how long you've been in the organization experiencing it. Continuous war for some of us, the idea that the fighting and sacrifices done in Iraq may have been kind of pointless, plus the flippant treatment of our pay and benefits is just the perfect recipe for a palatable cloud of frustration and exhaustion hanging over the whole community.

The low morale spreads like a contagious disease whether its originating source impacts you or not. When most of those around you are living on the short fuse of high piled stress, you feel it, too. That's just the way a small social system works.

I feel so deeply for our whole community. The cycle of exhaustion fuels itself. When will we find rest? And how can we teach each other to react to our pain with empathy instead of vitriol?

A few weeks ago we ran a post that I (foolishly) expected would receive universal acceptance. Written as a response to a letter I receive from a female spouse, I told her that we all have hard days and that, as a result, we all should be able to feel a tinge of compassion for someone else.

Boy, was I wrong. The very first comment was from a male spouse, angry that I had aimed a post at females only, even though the premise was that a woman had been looking for help. The second comment advised me (and others like me who dare to admit to feeling down sometimes) to "STFU and be grateful you have a spouse who's not only willing to defend the country but is willing to put up with you." Still another was annoyed that I had suggested that having a hard time even once in your spouse's career was all but universal. "Please don't include us all in this. I have never once held a 'pity party' for myself when my husband is gone," she wrote.

My first reaction to these comments was anger. Can people really not stop for a single second, step outside themselves and have a little compassion for someone else's hurt, regardless of whether or not they think it's legitimate? What happened to the idea that feelings are just feelings -- neither right nor wrong?

But then I realized that by reacting that way I was doing exactly the same thing they were. Feelings are just feelings, neither right nor wrong.

So regardless of whether or not you want it to be seen -- I see your pain, I see your low morale. When I look in the mirror I see the same thing in me. Go ahead and be mean, and I will hope that you can find peace.

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