Monday, October 1, 2007


The more eloquent soldiers being interviewed for The War are able to convey how they changed from being an ordinary man into someone who could kill easily. Several of them have spoken of the point at which they realized they were "expendable". Of course, the ones we're hearing from are the ones who survived, not just physically but also mentally. America's entry into the war was marked by failures and close calls because our troops were not "ready", which in some instances is code for "the ones who couldn't become killers had not yet been weeded out".

As Joan Baez once said, "If it's natural to kill, how come men have to go into training to learn how?"

There are a lot of figures being floated around about the cost of our current war, as another supplemental comes up for vote. Progressives include the cost of caring for our wounded, not just over there but back home with rehabilitation, mental health services, and disability pensions. But even those figures are inadequate because, again, they deal with those who are concretely, measurably injured.

The fact is, though, the aftermath of World War II saw a number of social changes that were all a direct result of sending 12% of the population into inhuman conditions, then bringing them home to resume normal life without any sort of organized, effective emotional processing. "When the boys came home", they demanded (and were given) the best-paying jobs (if they were white), college loans, housing loans, and a violent shove backwards for women and non-whites. The post-war repression led directly to the near-revolution of the 1960s. My generation are the children of those returned soldiers, and while they deserve respect for their sacrifice -- the whole nation deserves respect for its effort -- that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend they weren't seriously fucked up by how they spent their adolescence and young adult years.

Especially the men. The cult of masculinity that feminism addressed and is now waxing again arose as a result of male conditioning during and after World War II. Masculinity is an incomplete version of humanity, a carefully carved-out portion -- in precisely the same way that "white identity" is divorced from the actual reality of being alive on this multihued planet, and carrying the same degree of illusion and disease.

I personally believe that masculinity has offered everything it possibly could to humanity, and it's time to retire this bastard notion, thank you very much. (Along with femininity, but you don't find the same worship of it these days.) We can do better, and if we don't, the planet is going to die from "masculine" approaches to our problems.

Which has nothing at all to do with being male, or female. If you don't understand the difference, this essay is not for you.

"Happy Days" existed only for white boys with enough to eat. For the rest of the population, the majority, the post-war period sent people into depression, into ghettoes, into subservience, into shame -- and into the arts trying to find a means of expressing themselves. At least a third, and perhaps as much as 50%, of the children raised in those post-war families were the victims of sexual abuse. We'd be stupid to deny a connection behind the dehumanizing training of battle and the failure to see children as anything more than objects. Child abuse and sexualization has been with us for millenia, but we don't have the statistics to prove it didn't take a big spike after 1945.

The numbers returning from Iraq (when and if that occurs) will be far less, only about 1% of the population, but in some respects far more damaged. These folks will have spent years on end in urban settings, viewing civilians (not just other soldiers) as their chief threat, including children. They will be aware they were lied into this war, and it's only human nature to feel ashamed of having been duped, even if you were clearly part of the majority. Further, most of them are working class, people who turned to military service as a means of economic survival or advancement. There's a working class ethic against therapy, and having been royally screwed by the authority who sent them to Iraq, it's easy to guess many of them won't trust "professionals" who seek to help them. If help is even offered.

Masculinity stripped of civilized veneer, taught how to kill in urban settings, isolated and devalued economically once they're back home. What will "support for the troops" look like then? It will get dumped back onto their communities of origin, is my guess.

I want to see us, as progressives, getting ready to address this problem. It will mean recognizing the sources and making sure to neither blame nor idealize the victim. Naming and draining the cesspool of male conditioning is what will make everybody safe, including women and children.

Outside of academic enclaves, where creating deconstructed theories are what earn income and advancement rather than having to adjust to a brutally conforming corporate structure, and small self-selecting queer communities with rigid strictures on what is said and believed, the conditions for women as fully-recognized human beings are deteriorating. Indirectly, the heavy-handed emphasis on masculinity and "boi"-ness even within allegedly feminist communities proves this trend. For example, drag kings select only certain kinds of masculinity to perform -- that of the sexually dimorphic working class stereotype. Much of the overwhelming classism of these shows arises from the wedding of male-conditioned incoherence, numbness and narcissism to power-based sexuality, thus conditioning yet another generation of young women to project their own humanity onto the inexplicably romanticized icon of selfish meathead.

But those of us who exist in real communities with working class men know they are being eviscerated by these standards of masculinity, driven to substance abuse, distanced from their own families, chewed up and dying young. It's most definitely not "hot". And -- they're not the ones in charge of the decisions being made about who goes to war, who gets the big salaries, who has control of their own bodies. It's the "other" masculinity, the "non-sexy" version, who are really fucking us all.

You know, it's not just Barbie who doesn't resemble any living woman. GI Joe doesn't look like a single soldier in any of that World War II footage, either.

This time, instead of "buying bonds", let's stop buying the lies. Judy Grahn said "What you will do matters. All you need to do is to do it." Here they come: Are you ready?


kat said...

ah, Maggie, you are the ultimate teacher!
I read this and every once in a while thought "But what about x?" and in the next sentence, you addressed x.....

My best friend's twin did 2 tours in Iraq. He joined up right after high school, in the autumn of the Clinton era, for the same reason that a lot of kids did: College wasn't in the cards, and he really didn't know what to do.
I suspect that on some level, there was a little bit of "fuck you" to his ultra-progressive parents, too.

Anyway, he and his unit of Army Rangers realized almost immediately after they got there that someone was at least massively misled, if not maliciously lying.
They were sent to one of the palaces that Saddam owned, and just looking at the ridiculously lavish house and grounds, it was clear to them that this guy was not out building weapons with his (ill-gotten) money. Rather, he was either stock-piling it and building gold toilet seats and whatever else.

When he finished it active duty, Danny sat in an armchair in his parents' house for months. He was practically catatonic. He wouldn't talk to anyone.

His dad is a psychiatrist, but of course Danny wouldn't talk to him, nor would he agree to talk to any of his dad's colleagues.

Finally now, a couple of years later, he's starting to look for the next stage in life. He took the tests towards becoming a police officer, and that's the latest news that I've got. The thought of Danny being a cop is really scary.

At the same time, though, he's not really qualified for anything else. All he knows is how to prowl urban areas being suspicious of people.

He's one of the "successes"....what does that say?

Dark Daughta said...

Only one comment, hunh? Your work was layered, historical, political, with feminist, class, race, queer analysis...but I guess I don't need to tell you that it rawked. I see that you've found words for the odd pervasiveness of what looks like gender questioning masculinity in wimmin's community. I didn't have words. I had an understanding that was mostly instinctive based on the many lovers I've had who have come out as male...but I won't pin it on them, I also have a craving of cross gendered power relations that found an acceptable framework through my relationships with the butches I've been in relationship with. I think the stuff about queer community and drag kings resonated really strongly. Your analysis was so bang on...I usually mark how bang on I am by the silence that surrounds any given kick ass and complex post. Thanks for this.

Jesse Wendel said...

But Maggie, what do we do?

I was working with a PTSD 2-war vet till two weeks ago. Spent a lot of time.

Now it's been a while since I've worked emergency psych, but I'm not a beginner.

What I clearly missed however is what you're pointing to.

This young man was working as a guard in some kind of "correctional facility" (his words.) But he was clearly compelled to keep proving his manhood, over and over and over again, using vulgar sexualized insults as if he was a 15-16 year old boy just discovering sex, or at least, that he could talk dirty.

Eventually -- and it happened very fast when it happened -- he flared into such rage I had to throw him off GNB as a danger to what we're building there.

What you're speaking to... I wish I could get more at it somehow. This over-masculineness.

Suggestions? Ways of pulling the excess testosterone out and leaving the human part intact?

little gator said...

as usual, this reminds me of someone. In this case, a friend's father, one of the sweetest and kindest men I've ever known.

Mr. R dropped out of high school in 1942 or so to join the army. He had problems with his feet that would have kept him from being drafted, but he volunteered. He ended up in in the infantry in eastern Europe and ruined his feet further.

He told his family that he never deliberately shot anyone. In battle, he'd try to shoot over their heads, and hoped he succeeded. he wanted to do what he could but he couldn't shoot anyon eon purpose.

Or so he said. It's hard to believe such a claim, but coming from Mr. R. I think it was likely to be true.

kat said...

Jesse Wendel, what's GNB?

Jesse Wendel said...

GNB = Group News Blog.

I'm its publisher and also blog there, as does Sara Robinson, who is one of the two principle bloggers at Orcinus. Also Hubris Sonic and Lower Manhattanite, two names if you don't know, you'll likely come to.

The Group News Blog is the heir to the late Steve Gilliard's The News Blog. Maggie has a link to us up on her blogroll if you're interested. (I very specifically don't go on other blogs to talk about my own; that's not why I'm here.)

GNB is growing scary fast. A post on Sep 30 called "Growing A Startup", google: "Group News Blog" growing startup
talks about our growth. I mention that one specific post only because I mention Maggie in the comment thread. *smiles*

Hope this helps. I tend to answer really simple questions with WAY more than the person asked for. Sorry. Over-communicating is just a way of life with me. Sometimes it drives people a little nuts, but you'll get used to it. It only really bugs me when I don't get enough sleep because I'm staying up finishing off one last email to someone 'cause I've got to make certain we're in communication on whatever. *smiles* Kind of like this. *cracks up*


kat said...

Thanks for the info!
I appreciate it.

Don't worry about over-answering, I do it all the time...

shadocat said...

I've been watching "The War" each night @ 1am, right after I get home from work. I'm a bit fuzzy then, but it's the only time I can watch it (currently have no recording abilities). Am I right, did they say "1 out of 4" suffer from "combat fatigue"? I did hear the part that no one can stand more than 240 days straight of combat duty.

I've spent a few years working in shelters, dv and otherwise, and I 've picked up a few stats. I believe it's 75% of chronically homeless men are combat veterans; also a majority of dv offenders; and a majority of prison inmates. When you add that to the death and destruction, isn't this just too high a price to pay for any war?

I know you've probably already read this, but here's an excellent piece from Womensspace; also a hearbreaking film:

Jesse Wendel said...

shadocat --

I retired as a paramedic burned out after about ten years in almost exclusively big city inner cities (plus as a flight medic rotary & fixed wing, plus as Staff [and medic] on a ropes course for the up-sell to a famous self-help program. But mostly I worked knife & gun club in the ghetto. Internship in Houston, then Little Rock/N Little Rock, Oklahoma City, then Tucson/S Tucson, & finally Oakland.

Not counting my tour on active duty with the 101st Airborne, or in the reserves with the 374th Air Ambulance Detachment. So I know a touch about people suffering from combat fatigue.

Yeah, 1:4 is about right from wars, although that's just the named number. I've always though that's simply the number of people too damaged to be able to function effectively. The number damaged is much higher. More like 50%.

As for your question about isn't it too high a price to pay for war? Um, probably. Usually. Most of the time.

It wasn't I don't think for either World War I or World War II. Probably not for Korea. Was for Vietnam. And for pretty much everything else we've been in. But I didn't mind us going in to stop the slaughter in central Europe. And I'd send the 2nd Armored into Africa if I though it would made difference one.

Frankly, it might. Send them in along with the 3/187 and the 101st. There is a time and a place where I believe Armies are appropriate, and it's very clear to me are so-called way of life wouldn't survive even a year our inability to project military force on demand. We use what, 25-30% of the world's energy for 5% of the world's people and hold an enormous percentage of the world's wealth.


No way we don't get freaking rolled the moment we've no longer got people with guns saying, "Yo, back off." At the same time, no way it lasts forever. Oil is ending, and because of this, food is falling apart all over the world, causing massive migrations, which is why we can't stop people coming across our borders. I grew up in Tucson. My mom lives there now. One of my dear friends is a priest active for decades in working to save people coming across the desert.

Sometimes when I'm back home visiting, I go down to where the coyotes come over, leading people. It's like watching the tide come in the beach. The man wasn't called "Canute the Great" because he was stupid. These forces are unstoppable. What any of us can hope to do is call what's happening, and dance in the chaos in such a way that we're part of the flow, not smashed into the rocks through resisting the flow of the inbound tide, each time rising higher and higher on on shores till finally it sweeps over the land and what follows after who can tell. *smiles*

But people with guns won't be able to stop jack.

In the meantime, there are places in the world where armies could make a real difference and be consistent with our higher American values. I think we should consider using our people there, not break the greatest military might the world has ever known in Iraq.

And yeah, there's always, always, always a cost when we do so. But when we fail to do so, futures change as well and are we not morally culpable if we have the power to act and fail to do so? If we see someone drowning and just sit here and watch?

Changing the subject...

Maggie --

I wasn't kidding in my earlier post. I'd truly like to hear what you think is possible in terms of getting inside this conversation.

I deal with people who are like this muchly.

Ideas? Anything you've got -- I really understand you may not have any final answers. I'm grappling with it myself -- but truly, anything at all right now would be pretty much better than I've got.

More, your approach is different. Um, the context. Yeah, that context in which you're having the conversation about your approach is different. Please talk more about how your context informs your approach to actual human people who are in pain. I sniff there's something there I can use.


Maggie Jochild said...

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, folks. I almost set my apartment on fire last night -- DID set my stove on fire, but managed to get it out. I've been cleaning smoke damage in my spare time, as best I can given my mobility impairment. And, while scrubbing, wheezing, worrying about my lack of attention, I've been distracted by your question, Jesse. It's a Big Question.

My first response is to say, How would you answer it? Because usually when people are thinking on the level that you're thinking, they have some inkling of the answers to their own serious questions, but haven't broken through to believing their own wisdom for some reason(s). Plus, most of us walk around without nearly enough attention from others for what's really going on, and even two minutes of pure listening will bring out the hero and genius in us. So, I'll stick with that as a first impulse: I'd like to hear from you, without reservation, what you've done, what you've considered, what's worked and hasn't worked in this area where you have an extensive experience and commitment.

By the way, don't worry about overcommunication here. Clearly I don't believe in the concept. It's a blog, we're not trapped next to each other on a Greyhound bus.

However, I will go on to answer your question. I'll begin with a story of a peer counseling class I taught in 1985 in San Francisco. I advertised for class participants, got a roomful of interested folks, and then had to make decisions about how to keep in the class (size limit 10), who to save for another cycle. One of the guys who showed up was simply massive, 6 feet 8 inches tall, wide and muscular, with a long beard. He was dressed completely in leather and identified himself as a biker warlock. I'll call him Jack for here.

My advisors and other teachers in that community all, every single one of them, advised against including Jack in my class. They thought he would frighten the other trainees and be resistant to emotional work, but they couldn't give me a convincing reason why they believed this about him. I thought it was likely his appearance, and their own fear. But I was raised around men that big, and they don't scare me. Nor do bikers, or men who swear a lot, or talk loud. And I thought any guy who called himself a biker warlock and decided to check out peer counseling was likely to have some open door somewhere. I asked Jack into the class.

Another guy, whom I'll call Peter, was short, bald, and extremely quiet. From the first class, he was far more resistant to approaching his feelings, uncomfortable about other's emotions, and refused to sit physically near anybody. Him I did find frustrating, and trying to talk to him individually didn't help.

Jack, on the other hand, had no problems bawling like a baby about his mama. Even so, I noticed that some of the other class members -- mostly middle-class women -- acted afraid around him. The same women kept trying to mother Peter, who just slid away silently.

The fourth class, Jack showed up early and asked to talk with me. He bluntly said I was fucking up with Peter, not getting anywhere, and offered his help because he'd met with the guy individually. I said "Okay, what should I be doing?" Jack said "You know he's a Vietnam vet, right?" I was floored. I said I'd had no idea. Jack said Peter had been through unspeakable experiences, and he wasn't going to open up unless he was sure it was safe to tell the worst.

The truth is, I didn't have any experience at all in counseling someone about war experiences. But I've gotten Holocaust survivors to tell me their stories, and, more practical, I've been the first person to hear the experience of incest and sexual abuse survivors more times than I can count. Like, hundreds. The details are not the same, but I figured the damage was comparable -- the helplessness, the isolation, the violence, the repetitive nature of it.

The only way to actually hear the entirety of someone's story, when it's that bad, is to give up all your defenses against it. To be willing to experience some of what they experienced. To bear witness without any rationalization, bolthole or "fix" in your mind, because those are all defenses against the hearing. And, even as you go there, you don't get a "turn" to have your own reaction to what you're hearing, you just keep choosing to listen. Because the sharing of it is the contradiction that allows healing to occur. It's the simplest thing in the world, and it's a skill most of us never learn.

I decided to do that with Peter. You have to be authentic in the offer of such listening. You can't be pretending, or hoping they'll believe in your sincerity when it isn't present inside you. But we're all waiting on tenterhooks for such an offer, and when it's honestly extended, most people will take you up on it (after asking you a few times "Really?" in various ways).

Well, Peter said yes. Everybody in the class heard what I heard from him, the horrors he'd been through. I won't repeat them here, except to say it's worse than you can imagine unless you have experience with it. Turns out, after he got home, he had a diving accident that almost severed his spinal column, and now a sudden physical jolt could potentially finish the break and render him paraplegic. So that's why he kept his distance from everyone, not the war experiences. If you let him approach you, he was ravenous for simple human contact.

Peter and Jack became regular counselors for each other, and by the end of class, Jack was my favorite. He'd grown on some of the others, too. At the very least, he blazed a trail and knew he was doing so, probably had to do it everywhere he went. He was exceptionally smart, and committed to digging himself out from under the crap he'd been raised with.

Not long after that, I came back to Texas on a visit and went to the city where my older brother lived to see him. I did have my partner with me, and she was a great ally, but I did the work of that encounter. I was ready for it. He was a huge man, too, loud, furious, and smart. He tortured me and my little brother in ways that most people in my life have not been able to stand hearing about -- he was eight years older than, 11 years older than Bill -- yet was adamantly denying it all.

We had dinner with him and his family, and after dinner, we sat at the kitchen table talking. My goal was to find out what the fuck had happened to him -- how had he become the monster I knew him to be? Not a question you can ask directly, especially when somebody was still in the denial he was. Eventually, his kids went to bed, his wife went elsewhere in the house, and I kept asking questions about his memories of our childhood, staying open to whatever version he fed me. Wherever it went, I was willing to go. One of the bravest moments of my life.

And, an hour later, out it came. When I was a baby, we lived in India and he -- at ages eight through 11 -- was enrolled in a British boys' boarding school. My parents thought they were giving him a superior education. What happened to him was violent classism, torture, molestation, and ridicule: The kind of training necessary to turn little boys into the English ruling class. He wept about what was done to him. And I had my answer.

It didn't set him on the path to recovery. That's an individual choice, and it's one he never made. Nor was I the person to help him along that path, even if I had wanted to assume that role (which I did not). Still, it's made a huge difference to me to have heard the entire truth, as best he could tell it.

Now, as to what I've picked up along the way, here's a list in no particular order. These are the beliefs I operate by when it comes to listening as an active form of restoring balance:
1. Listen to what you can. If there's a limit, name it in advance if you can. If you don't know your limit and you hit it, be honest and kind -- "That's all I can hear for now. But I heard you up to this point, and I won't forget it" is good enough.
2. If you're a member of a target group for oppression and you choose not to listen to folks in the non-target group talk about how things are for them, that's your right. No excuses necessary. This is especially true for women (who are conditioned to be listeners for men) and people of color (who are deluged by non-white reality).
3. However, should you choose to listen, be authentic. Even two minutes goes a long, long way.
4. Take your reaction to what you hear -- especially advice or judgment -- someplace else. Even if they beg you for your opinion. What they really want is reassurance, that what they've experienced hasn't severed them from the ranks of humanity. Give them that, and they'll figure out how to clean things up for themselves.
5. On the other hand, don't lie. If they ask "Does hearing this scare you/make you sick/make you mad?" and it does, admit it. But don't focus there. Remember, and remind them, your feelings are not what's getting the attention right now, and you won't let your feelings keep you from sticking by them right now.
6. And when I say "take it someplace else" -- really, find an outlet. You can only take in what you've got room for, and if you don't do your own clean-up work, you'll get backed up fast. Keep the pipes clean.
7. If their experience plugs into a systemized, institutionalized form of oppression (note this limit), it will be useful for you to point that out when asked for feedback. As in "I hear you signed up because you wanted a college education and there was no other way for you to get one, and now you're too fucking crippled to go to college anyhow -- that's classism, buddy, not stupidity on your part."
8. Isolation and a sense of abandonment are at the root of most trauma. Acknowledge it. They were left alone with it, they were treated as being expendable. But if they lived, it's because they knew this was a lie. (People who don't know it tend to die.) Remind them of this. The point of choosing survival was in the past. Now that they've contradicted the lie, they can go on acting against it in more and more positive ways.
9. The expendability and devaluation of (some) men is built into male supremacy just as intrinsically as the expendability and devaluation of women, but for men it mostly takes the form of racism and classism. Not all men are expendable. For some men to succeed, other men (and almost all women) must sacrifice. It's a system, not about individual value. Directing anger toward the system, rather than individuals, encourages empowerment rather than revenge or victimization. For most working class men, asking them how their ancestors struggled for survival will give them examples of how to work against a system rather than individuals. Every ancestry, every region and ethnicity, has amazing stories of empowerment.
10. They'll be desperate. They've gone a long time without help. They don't want to live this way any more. But those feelings of desperation are part of the lie, part of the confusion that came in with the trauma. Just like if you've gone hungry for three days, your first meal isn't going to ease the sense of being ravenous -- finally getting listened to won't make it all better. There's no magical ending here. Do what you can, reassure them they've been saving their own fucking life all along and they're in those same good hands, and tell 'em you'll hear more in the future.
11. Work to create support systems not just for them, but for their intimates, especially the women in their lives. Women are the wellspring, and if one of us gets tapped out, it's bad news for the kids, for everybody in the family. Not the way it should be, but all too often, this is the reality. The personal work of dealing with trauma survivors usually falls to women. So, buy them/us some relief.
12. Some people are so damaged, they can't figure out how to accept help or even acknowledge they have a problem that needs help. Honestly -- I don't know how to get through in these instances. I have, once or twice, but I don't know how I did it. Fortunately, this is really, really rare. Over 90% of what looks like hopelessness is just a recording that's paper thin, and right beyond it is them waiting to bust through.
13. Self-medication to keep from going nuts or becoming violent through substance abuse is sometimes okay. (I know, heresy.) If it's all someone's got, and the alternative is suicide or going on a rampage, I'd rather see them alive and drunk for the time being. It's a tricky call to make, because of course the substance abuse adds on its own layer of isolation, denial, physical damage and (eventually) legal problems. Sometimes, though, you get them to safety before you insist they stop drinking or drugging.
14. Contemplating, threatening or acting out violence towards others is accepting the lie that they are not as human as the rest of us. It adds on layers of damage. It has to be interrupted in every instance. Male conditioning allows only anger (and some forms of humor) as emotional expression, so accessing grief or terror for boys and men can feel like they are losing their masculinity. I really disagree with the tactic of saying "REAL men allow themselves to cry" or whatever, because that's still reinforcing the crap that there's such a thing as not a real man. I've used countless reminders of "Sometimes Dad was wrong about things" or "You were born with tear ducts, it's not a birth defect" or "Fear is hard-wired into human DNA" to remind folks it's entirely human to access all your emotions. The example I used with my godson last year, when this came up, was "Imagine that the definition of boy was not about crying, but instead about pooping. A REAL boy doesn't need to poop, he can just hold it inside forever. Ignore the fact that you have a rectum, that the food you've eaten has to go somewhere -- just clench up and hold it in. Of course, after a while you're gonna be desperate to take a dump, so you'll sneak off and do it privately, never admitting it. And as you get older you'll hold it for longer and longer periods of time, until eventually you'll be stiff in how you walk and move, you'll be afraid to touch other people too much because if you relax, it might all come pouring out. And you'll get sick more easily than folks -- girls -- who poop whenever they need to. And every minute of the day, some part of your mind will be occupied with wondering when the next chance you'll get to go to the bathroom. Now, does that make any sense to you?" He was in hysterics by the end, and I've heard him since telling his friends "If you cry, you'll just feel better, that's all".

Lastly (for now), here's a little piece of action I encourage you all to take. I've already done it. Digby's post yesterday, "Killing The King", I think offers a serious piece of concrete advice designed to help troops stationed in Iraq not just now but long-term, and that is to get Rush Limbaugh removed from Armed Forces Radio. There isn't a balanced, hope-full viewpoint being offered on AFR, and Rush is a malignancy that will lodge in your mind and heart if there's no alternative under stress. Read her post and then go here to sign General Wesley Clark's petition to get Rush away from our soldiers. And pass this on. We need to reclaim a balanced media everywhere, but radio is particularly one-sided and hateful.

Jesse Wendel said...

Wow wow, oh wow.

I've never understood why people fail to want people who are better than they are in their own field to stick around. I look for people better than me. Who else are you going to learn from? *grins*

I've been creating safe space for people to communicate, go down to the very bottom of what they've got hidden, pour it all out, no matter how bad it might be -- from family to non-family sexual assaults, to rapes to beatings all the way in some cases to much worse. I've heard many many thousands of people in those moments; there isn't anything I'm unwilling or (so I think anyway) unwilling or unable to listen.

You're doing stuff I don't even think to do with this classism stuff.


Oh, I'm so happy Maggie. There are layers here, entire ways of being with people, I didn't even know. *does happy dance*

My best answer to my own serious question was, "Take it more seriously earlier."

The entire time with the guy I lost recently (the one I ended up banning of GNB) I was behind the curve, just like how most crashes don't come from one thing, but from what's called a "cascade failure" all working together against the pilots and when we look afterwards at their actions, we can see/say they were absolutely fucked from say, two-three hours before the crash, when x went wrong, and the failure just flowed out from there cascading in all directions through multiple systems till it was absolutely unstoppable. The pilots often didn't have a clue anything was wrong till way late in the process, and they were always reacting to the wrong thing, 20-30 minutes or at least 20-30 seconds to the thing which could have saved them. They never caught up.

Same here.

I was late and never caught up to what was really going on:

a)My first conversations with him I didn't realize he was a vet, let alone a vet with PTSD.

b) Even once I knew it, I didn't sit down and just think. Didn't come up with an action plan. Any action plan would have been better than simply continuing to just improvise, but that's what I did. I improvised without reflection.

c) I failed to review current literature so everything I was doing was built not even on what was valid many years ago, but on my memories of what was valid many years ago. Gee, I wonder how self-serving my memories have become over the years, hmmm?

d) I didn't talk over what I was doing with anyone else at GNB till very late in the incident. By then the guy was already acting out in a way which was triggering all kinds of public problems.

e) From here, I can see even now like a pilot flying into clouds, I simply could have turned around and just not flown in. Instead I flew into clouds believing I had to fly into the clouds because I had to respond to his public provocations for the good of the community.

f) Then I told him what he had to do. What was I thinking. I needed to lower the pressure, not raise it.

g) Boom.

h) Afterwards, I felt bad because I'd lost a patient, and I hadn't even realized till at least half-way in I'd been dealing with one, it had been such a long time. As if "feeling bad" somehow compensated for my fuck ups.

Lesson #1. Real-time only. Don't try treating real people over blogs. To much is lost in the compression and time gaps, all of which is there face to face, much of which is there by telephone. If I was going to work with this kid at all, it needed to have been someway I could hear his voice in real-time. My own reactions were playing me false.

Lesson #2 I'm running a blog, not veteran's outreach. He already has a PTSD counselor. I'm perfectly arrogant enough, and mindful of how good I am -- like you, though clearly not having learned as much as I thought I did, oh, I'm so happy!, having worked since the early 80s in self-help but not just the traditional ones, 'cause I transitioned to a strong university/startup flavor where we took all that stuff and married it to the high-tech business world and made it respectable -- I'm quite willing to believe I can get stuff from someone someone down at the VA is never going to reach. But... Jesse you jackass... if you're goin to do it, freaking do it. I didn't do it. I just didn't make the jump to thinking of this kid, this young man (shit, still not doing it) as anything but a kid pissing me off, instead of as a young man in pain who needed my help. Not till too late and by then he was already jammed up. Even then, it was way way way a case from my end of too little too late. Lesson: Don't take on a patient unless you're taking on a patient. Blog, not outreach center.

Lesson #3. Ask for help from competent people. Paramedics have partners, hopefully other paramedics. They have emergency physicians at the other end of their cell phone. And police 120-180 seconds away most cases. And firefighters to lift the big ones, do CPR, extrication. We never work alone. Even when a case is routine, you talk it over with your partner, just to double-check. Avoids tunnel-vision. I, master of over-communication, didn't tell anyone I had a problem, till it was a BIG problem. Just assumed all my colleagues were reading along in the comments with me. And yeah, they were... but not necessarily drawing the correct conclusions, and if we'd discussed it, perhaps someone would have said, "Yo, Jesse. Maybe this isn't what you think it is. Let's consider..."


1. Real-time conversation with the hurt person face-to-face or over a phone, not in the pages of a blog comment thread. Otherwise we'll fall further and further behind and both theirs and our reflexes will betray us all.

2. Duty to refer. This is a blog, not an outreach center. We don't treat patients here. Not only is it illegal; we can't do it well.

3. Ask for help. Talk it over with competent people, early. It may well not be what you think it is.

And finally...

You really don't have to fly into the clouds. While you may think you absolutely have to take an action... perhaps you don't. Perhaps it only seems that way. Perhaps you can be patient longer than anyone else in the conversation.

I am always the person who can be patient longer than anyone else.

This time I wasn't. And now the young man is gone.

Jesse Wendel said...

More specific lessons:

d-2) After I didn't talk to GNB people, I didn't talk to people in the field with current expertise. Such people are a phone call away.

d-3) I have no idea of his drug & booze status.

f-2) I failed to ask him what was wrong and just get him talking. This kid was begging to talk. As a start, how about my shutting the hell up and letting him talk.

Everything here that went wrong, the more I look at it, was me getting in the way of a young veteran trying desperately to communicate.

Aw... This is just.bad. Not as bad as when you kill a patient. But it's sure as hell not good.

Thank you Maggie. You of all people I'm clear understand how much I appreciate the space to run through the hotwash. I thought I had, but obviously... not.

k. Thank you again. --jwe