What Is Veterans Day?
On the surface Veterans Day is a public holiday held on the anniversary of the end of World War I (November 11) to honor US veterans and victims of all wars. What I am about to express however is less focused on the day itself and more of the underlying meaning behind what it means to honor veterans, on this day or any other. Let me be clear... I'm no expert and I am not a veteran. These are my personal thoughts.
In the past few years some important friends, colleagues, and mentors have entered my life as veterans. Some active duty, some not. One in particular has had major influences in my personal life while the other two have had bigger impacts in my work life.
In my past, thanking a Veteran was something I understood on the surface and generally it made me uncomfortable. Essentially we have some status quo ways within society that we've learned to thank Vets. This space just made me feel awkward. Airports, stadiums, in a bar or restaurant etc. We often hear "Thank you for your service" especially when they're in their uniforms. We do our best to show thanks within statements and celebrations like these. That unto itself isn't bad and what it represents is obviously well intended. But if you've noticed, it doesn't always make a Veteran all that comfortable either. Why?
My belief in why it made me uncomfortable (and them) is because I don't think most people fully understand the thanks they are offering and it places the Vet in a bit of an uncomfortable situation, as some form of meaningful reciprocation on the Vet's end is culturally expected (as is inherent in any exchange in society).
Nick Klein with ATX Precision (center, Navy SEAL) has been one of the closest brothers I've ever had. If not for him, I'm not sure I'd still be here. Themes like adversity, pain, and friendship have been mediums for us to grow closer together. For him this has been during a period where he rejoins the civilian world with a dream he wishes to realize, for me it's one where I build my second business while challenging the status quo in the industry.
In my experience I've found that most veterans, if given the choice, want to be understood more than they do celebrated loudly. They prefer empathy, respect, and understanding over sympathy or loud thanks.
Think about what happens when someone thanks you because they're supposed to versus what it feels like when someone stares into your eyes with a heartfelt gaze and offers you a thanks that warms the heart? The latter is only possible when someone understands what they are saying and to some degree, what the person being thanked has gone through. I believe many people say thanks but don't understand what it means to be a part of a warrior culture. That makes empathy, which is understanding by definition, impossible.
As to not pretend that I "know" what it means to be a veteran, I'm instead here to offer some of the important things Veterans have taught me.
1. Brotherhood, once established is a really big deal to most veterans. It means you are there for each other and if you're lucky it also means you're willing to be honest with each other almost no mater what. If you find yourself in a relationship or friendship like this with a vet, don't take it lightly. This could be a friend for the rest of your life.
2. Endurance, determination, and resolve for the greater good is one of their strongest attributes. But like any spouse or friend, don't become complacent with their ability to handle it. Aka they don't usually whine. So pay close attention to where your vet friends are at and ask questions. They usually have more going on underneath than they let on at the surface.
3. Veteran understanding of society's rules and methods doesn't always make sense to folks whose adult lens is developed in the armed forces. Do your part to help learn from their past life as you talk about yours as a civilian. This exchange helps both parties understand how to move forward as a healthier society.
4. Ask vets what matters most to them and why. For me at least, what our democracy means and why certain pillars are so important, didn't come into sharper focus until I had a few important conversations with Veterans about the structure of our government and how lucky we are to have that structure.
5. Leadership to a veteran looks different than it does to the average citizen, entrepreneur, or capitalist. Make sure you clarify whether you want someone to just stay in their lane or if you want someone to build and ideate with you. I've realized after some costly mistakes that I had too much loyalty from my Veteran staff, when I was really looking for their opinion, leadership skills, and honest feedback on how to grow. I admired them and didn't make that clear enough that they felt comfortable to challenge my thinking. This can create resentment and frustration in business and friendship. This can slow progress and hurt culture.
In closing, know that Vets are different than civilians and throughout history any healthy society that better understands it's warriors allows for a healthier society as a whole.
Sportsman's Finest is lucky to have three Veterans that all remind us to be a little stronger than we have to be. Even though I don't remember to mention it often enough, Ramsey, John, Chris, Sheila, and now Josh are all valued members of the team that I'm grateful to have in our shop.
The next time you are tempted to say thanks just make sure it's deeply and truly heart felt. If it's not perhaps it's worth considering what you can do to learn more to reach the point of empathy.
In closing, thank to all Veterans today and all days. Please let us know if there's anything we can ever do to make your life a little better.