by Frank Jefferson
Getting called out stings, especially if there’s truth to the accusations. Nobody really enjoys being told, “You’re wrong.” Most often we respond to such attacks defensively as if the attacks on our behavior are attacks on our personhood. A wise, mature adult, however, does not abhor correction and realizes that although difficult, it’s an essential part of personal growth. As humans, we’ll never reach a point in our lives where we’re devoid of fault. And coming to that realization is step one in minimizing our aforementioned shortcomings; only a fool would argue otherwise.
This message comes in the wake of what has turned out to be an incredibly controversial article recently posted by fellow Havok writer Frank Jefferson entitled Look at Me, I Went To War. Although I may not completely agree with the article in its entirety, I do feel that the article itself combined with the responding backlash illustrates a need within the veteran community.
We need to be better at receiving and responding to opposing viewpoints and revisit how to properly respond to correction. In order to properly address this issue, we need to shed a little light on how an individual reacts mentally to an opposing viewpoint. Hopefully, this can provide some insight into the inner workings of one’s own mind to facilitate an ascent into maturity.
When new information or a new opinion challenges your beliefs, a phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance” occurs. Cognitive dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable and there are three possible courses of action to relieve it. You can discredit the message, discredit the person delivering the message, or you can change your beliefs.
By far, the easiest of these actions? Discredit the person. You only need to look as far as any political campaign to see this method in action. Humans are far more fallible than ideas, so it takes minimal effort to discredit the human behind them. Although effective in relieving your own cognitive dissonance, ascribing to this technique will not allow anything more than minimal growth, if that.
The middle of the road as it pertains to difficulty in relieving cognitive dissonance? To discredit the idea. In order to accomplish this, you need to dissect the argument in opposition to your beliefs and you need to dissect your own beliefs as well. You then need to use logic (no small feat, especially for some of us) to dismantle the opposing argument and prove your own belief to be superior. As I said, it’s much easier to discredit the person, but by discrediting the idea you allow yourself the opportunity for growth. And in the end, become more confident in your own beliefs should your efforts be successful.
The hardest course of action of all? To change your own belief. Oftentimes, this happens in the middle of an attempt to discredit the opposing argument. You do a truly insightful analysis of your own core beliefs and the opposing view and —you realize that the opposing view is more sound than your own. Well, that hurts. You now have to accept the fact that you’ve been wrong for a very long time, and have made more mistakes than you previously imagined. That hurts worse. Changing your own beliefs is far and away from the hardest of the three courses of action, but also the one that the wisest among us do not fear. After all, we should be far more focused on getting it right, as opposed to being right.
Here is what I have come up with after my own period of introspection in regards to Look at Me, I Went to War. I believe veterans should be proud of their service and don’t believe that we should simply keep our mouths shut about it. Conversely, we also don’t need to tell every single person that we pass on the street how awesome we are because we served. It was just that — a service. It was a duty. We did what needed to be done because it needed doing.
I’ve never met a waiter or waitress that bragged about how perfect my order was. On that note, don’t forget that there are innumerable people out there who never served a day in the military who accomplished amazing feats while we were away. I’m pretty sure there are a ton of engineers, doctors, inventors, and computer technicians that did more to advance society than we ever did sitting in a guard tower pulling security. It takes way more people than warfighters to keep society going, let alone advancing. They, like you, did what needed to be done — because it needed doing.
When it comes to a veteran’s personal publicity, I believe we need to find a happy medium and seek the Aristotelean “Golden Mean” that prizes moderation in all things. We as veterans need to know our left and right limits, and I thank Frank Jefferson for challenging one of them.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on February 20, 2019.