The Army Did It To Me

“The Army is doing this to me.”

I used to hear that phrase, or some form of it, nearly every day.

I was working as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. I had an office directly across the hall from a man who spent most of his day counseling young soldiers through all the challenges young soldiers faced, which, more often than not, were challenges centering around money, relationships or disciplinary actions.

I wasn’t a counselor or therapist by any means. I had a little training in counseling psychology prior to joining the military, but not enough to give me any sort of official status. I was just the guy whose office they had to sit in while they waited their turn with the Chaplain. The Chaplain knew my background and encouraged me to stop whatever administrative task was in front of me and be an ear for the soldier’s grievances.

I’m a chatty guy. I enjoy talking to people and hearing their stories. I’m probably chattier than most men – my wife often says I’m basically a girl. I’m also quite fond of language – I enjoy words: I love to find the right word, an accurate word, a string of words that will let me paint an idea in a new light.

“The Army is doing this to me.”

That phrase never sat well with me. It was far too broad.

As I sat with the young soldiers and heard this phrase it occurred to me just how important it is to choose the right language. The words we use are an expression of the thoughts in our heads and the emotions tumbling around in our bodies, but we aren’t slaves to that. The thoughts and emotions don’t have to come before the words – picking different words first can paint those thoughts and emotions from a completely different perspective.

I really only had one tool to help these young soldiers. As they told me their stories I would begin to ask questions. I wouldn’t tell them what to do or think (does that ever work?). I had one goal: help them narrow their challenge down to something manageable.

“The Army is doing this to me.”

That’s a pretty scary place to start.

If you really think the Army, the whole Army, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are out there formulating policies specifically targeted to bring you discomfort, well, that’s a pretty frightening prospect.

It’s paralyzing.

This is the language of fear.

As I sat and listened, if there was time, we would sometimes arrive at a moment where the soldier would move from saying “the Army” to something more specific, like “I don’t like how Sergeant Smith is treating me”.

That was a breakthrough moment.

Now we had something tangible, something specific, something a young soldier had the tools to work with. He didn’t have to fight the Army – he had to have a conversation with Sergeant Smith.

This was something he could do.

And, if we were really successful, the soldier would reach a point where he could empathize with why Sergeant Smith was behaving the way he was.

This is the language of hope.

This is the language of possibility.

This is the language of growth.

This is the language of love.

25 years later I hear the same conversation nearly every day.
The liberals are doing this. The conservatives are doing that. The Muslims are doing this. The LGBT are doing that. The government, the press, the blacks, the whites, the world, society, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

This is the language of fear.

A year ago I went to an open house to learn about the Transgender community. This conversation was a hot topic in our community at the time and I realized I didn’t really know much about that term. I knew about as much about transgenderism as I knew about Greenland. I knew the name but had a very broad, hazy picture.

I learned a lot that night.

Like everything else in our world I learned that there was a spectrum. Just like there is almost nobody purely liberal or purely conservative I learned that there is an enormous range of expressions of gender. My broad, uninformed picture prior to this evening was that of men trying to pretend to be women, likely for nefarious purposes. What I learned was that for some, expression of gender was purely a matter of choice but for many it was a matter of basic biology – they appeared male, for instance, in the conventional ways we expect to see males (facial hair, receding hairline, Adam’s apple, etc.) but did not have male parts in their pants. Or maybe they did, but just never felt accepted or identified with conventional gender expressions. I can certainly relate to that.

I met someone that night who told me that he (and I use “he” because “he” chooses that pronoun) just wanted a place to safely poop.

That’s it.

My nine-year old son said something the other day that initially I took as childish silliness. He said “Dad, everybody has parts and farts”.

And he’s right.

At our most basic, individual, approachable, manageable levels, we process food and expel it in one way or another as a solid, liquid or gas. Most of the time that happens in a pretty predictable manner but often times it does not.

LGBTQ or whatever letters may get attached to that? That’s too broad for me. Lumping millions of people into that category and making assumptions that they all have some broad, nefarious agenda aligned against me?

That’s the language of fear.

Someone who needs a safe place to poop? That I can manage.

I don’t care if you’re Muslim or Christian or Liberal or Conservative or LGBTQ or Heterosexual or Black, White, Asian or from Greenland.

God didn’t give me a spirit of fear.

As for me and my house, your hearts and parts and farts are welcome here. Without judgement.

You’re welcome to use our bathroom.

Unless, of course, you put the toilet paper roll on backwards.

We don’t want to have an issue with the tissue now, do we?

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