I’ll never forget the day in High School after some big to-do about Martin Luther King (it was February, Black History Month) when I was in line for my lunch being stared at by a blonde haired girl who looked like she wanted to cry. Without warning this girl started asking me what I wanted for lunch and loading my tray up with items that I could have gotten myself, making me feel weird and uncomfortable along with the confusion that flooded my mind. I didn’t know this girl but I thought about it later (after politely telling her to leave me alone and putting back the items) and I realized that I was her chosen charity case due to the white guilt that comes along with tales of slavery, Jim Crow laws and lynching.
Now I am not a veteran nor have I served in the United States Military but I can imagine that the insincere “thank you”, the offering up of First Class seats on flights and the forced handshakes that result from Veterans Day has to be some of the most uncomfortable encounters that anyone can ask for. It has to feel similar to the way I felt with the reactionary girl who filled my tray with food that I never asked for. Sure a few people eat this up but I would be willing to bet that most would rather be left alone.
There is a right and a wrong way to show gratitude (if you truly are showing gratitude) and then there’s the reactionary nudge to just do something to let the world (and karma) know that you aren’t a bad person. As passionate about this as I am I could never see myself walking up to a Vet and shaking his hand to thank him for his service. I don’t know what he has been through, what he has done or what wars he was involved in. The only thing I know is what has been shown to me, what I’ve read and accounts from friends and family who served. Just because a commercial on television tells me to do it doesn’t make it anymore weird and invasive than it really is.
To be honest, we are quick to dole out empty gestures in order to satisfy our own selfish need to feel like a good person… it has nothing to do with the vets.
If you are truly grateful for the volunteers of that dangerous job which is the military, and want to help those who have come out the worst for wear for doing so, then silently donate to the organizations that have been built to give aid to those who need it. Choose one:
If you don’t want to donate then gratitude can be shown by refusing to contribute to conversations that either paint war lightly or pushes an ignorant, hurtful opinion about people that serve. Hire a veteran that meets the criteria of your job and speak out about discrimination against them if you’re unlucky enough to witness it. These subtle gestures go a long way as opposed to running up to a stranger and shaking her hand because you watched Platoon on Veteran’s Day.
I have never been a fan of the Sports Fanatic style of bandwagon when it comes to anything, as it never feels sincere outside of a gut reaction. Empty thank yous, handshakes and gifts make people uncomfortable and rarely helps. So the next time Veterans day rolls around and you feel guilted into doing something, please do something that counts outside of making people feel uncomfortable in order to make your soul feel righteous.See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.