STAYING STRONG EVEN ON THE BATTLEFIELD
My Emotional Fitness Program builds resilience, so I am particularly interested in the army’s attempt to strengthen resilience. Killing or fear of being killed, seeing others killed traumatizes, a fact the army is finally recognizing officially. This link describes the army’s emotional fitness program.
Here is a quote: “While we in the U.S. Army have witnessed steady increases in divorce, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and — most unfortunately — suicide, the vast majority of us serving are strengthened by — and frankly better because of — our experiences of serving in an organization at war for nearly a decade. We grow as leaders and fight on.
The idea that people grow strong by killing other people is chilling, but holds some truth. The safety needs of individuals and nations require others to serve and protect. Understanding what happens to those who take on that role is pivotal to making sure killing does not simply create more killing. The more we know about resilience and how to foster it the closer we move to creating peace on earth.
Trauma is part of what makes us fight or flee when faced with treat or pain. We fight if we think we can win, we flee if we think we won’t win. When we cannot fight or flee; we freeze or shut down. stop thinking, grow numb even collapse as a bird does when caught by a cat more interested in play than eating. Some birds die of fright, but others when the cat loses interest recover and fly safely away. Each of these three responses exists on a continuum, the more severe the trauma, the more intense these reactions rule and the more likely we will act on instinct and before thinking about how to best act.
The article stresses that the army’s approach encourages a meta-cognition approach–critical thinking and thinking about thinking. Much of what the article describes should be familiar to those who follow my emotional fitness training blog. The heart of my Staying Strong programs rests on learning to control the impulse to act without thinking. The article does not mention meditation skills which slow down the impulse to act, not does it suggest feeling awareness and developing rating scales or feeling thermometers. These might be part of the mix. I suspect tit teaches the use of slogans or calming self talk to help control negative thoughts. I am also certain it involves focusing on a mission. My hope is, of course, is that the mission is seen as moving the world toward peace and doing so with as little violence as possible.
A major component of Emotional Fitness Training involves making sense of the world in a way that keeps you focused on doing what you can to make the world more caring and just. That involves making sense of what happens–what is called meaning making. Some make sense through religious faith, others through a personalized secular philosophy. The Army’s resilience model also pursues meaning making, and this sentence near the end of the article disturbed me a bit: “To understand that leaders make meaning for followers.”
First, it seemed contradictory to the idea of creating critical thinkers. Secondly, it underscores that resilience is partly socially constructed but those in leadership positions have greater power when it comes to directing the meaning. Hitler made meaning for his people by condemning whole groups of people and seeking their elimination.
Jesus put forth a new meaning for a world dominated by war. His message spread, but has not brought peace. Those who study history know that his message of peace was co-opted by the leaders of the Roman Church and lead to mass killings across centuries. So I was pleased that the Army’s program stresses critical thinking, but also wishing I knew more about the meaning the leaders try to impose.
Please feel free to share your comments on the article and my thoughts.