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Saturday
May262018

Lessons from Memorial Day for daily life

As the world faces ongoing conflicts and threats of violence around the globe, please set aside political views for a moment, to consider valuable emotional lessons we can learn from those who gave the ultimate sacrifice whom we honor on this Memorial Day.   

Pride. There was a day when pride in flag and country prevailed.  As a child growing up on an army base in Kentucky, I have vivid memories when taps were played (signaling the lowering of the flag and the “lights out” command at day's end) when our family was driving in the car and my a father, an officer, would stop the car, get out, face the direction of the flag, stand at stiff attention and salute. A line of soldiers similarly outside their stopped cars were doing the same.  

Similarly, every morning on my way to school on the base, I saw soldiers dropping out of the sky, practicing parachuting. I was so proud of those men, that every time I hear the name of 101st Airborne Division – as I did during the Iraqi invasion – or hear the national anthem sung like at a baseball or football game, my chest gets tight and tears flood my eyes.



So on this Memorial Day, I am motivated to ask myself and everyone, “What or whom are you proud of in your life now?” and “How do you show that pride?”  

Mothers are proud of their kids, lovers of each other, mentors of their protégés.  

As a psychologist, I reflect that too rarely do we acknowledge or elaborate that pride.  Yet, it is fulfilling to feel pride of others and for them to hear you express that pride in them. 

In some cultures pride is looked upon negatively, as a sign of hubris, vanity, or superior status, or in Christianity, as one of the seven deadly sins.  In contrast, pride can be a virtue as Aristotle postulated, or a sign of group identity that counters shame and stigma as for ethnicities and gender identities, or as in psychology as a sign of esteem, acknowledgement and appreciation of self or others. 

Tell yourself what you’re proud of in yourself, like your achievements or positive qualities. Don’t feel egotistic to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. 

Also, tell others, “I am proud of you for …. (fill in the blank).”   

Sacrifice. On this Memorial Day, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in service of country. Dare to consider, “What or whom am I willing to die for?” What matters to you so much that you would face danger?   Most people I asked answered, “My children.” 

Some people also added that they could never be in the position of a general or military strategist giving an order knowing the death risks. President Roosevelt did this, when he approved the landing on the exposed Normandy beach in WWII risking brave young soldiers being target practice for enemy fire. And on the TV show “West Wing,” the president (played by actor Michael Sheen) is deeply troubled when briefed about the high percentage of men vulnerable to being shot in the operation of a dangerous mission, but gives the order anyway.   

Bravery. On this Memorial Day, I am moved to ponder, “What motivates people to be  brave?”  In the movie “Braveheart,” Mel Gibson’s freedom-fighting character lies on the enemy’s chopping block, being eviscerated (his guts cut out), as he screams out, “Freedom!”  The scene is indeed gut-wrenching to us as viewers, yet ever so awe- inspiring. 

Romance novels and literary classics are filled with characters willing to die for love.   

What passion or duty do you hold so dear that you would be willing to die for it? It’s a tough consideration. 

Loyalty is another characteristic of war, worthy of examining in our own life. Marine troops live by the credo, “Semper Fi,” pledging faithful brotherhood, going to all lengths to cover each other’s back and rescue any buddy in trouble. In another powerful scene from my childhood in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, I remember seeing a paratrooper in the sky grab his fellow serviceman whose chute did not open, bringing him down to safety.   

When’s the last time you went out of your way for someone else, regardless of the risk to yourself?  What can you do today for someone that puts you out?  Whose back are you covering? 

Courage is another lesson.  Consider soldiers who volunteer for dangerous missions, on the front lines or scouting. I keep my father’s army helmet hanging on the wall near my desk, reminding me of him being on the front lines, as a dentist, patching together the jaws of young soldiers blown apart by enemy fire. I also hold dear a patch from the “Flying Tigers,” a courageous WWII fighter squadron that operated in China.   

When’s the last time you had courage in the face of potential danger and were willing to take a risk?  For me, it was when the Ebola virus epidemic broke out in West Africa and I went to Sierra Leone to help run trainings and workshops to offer psychosocial support for the villagers, children and health workers facing drastic deaths and illness. Everyone said to me, “Are you crazy going to the center of a place with a deadly virus?”  I didn’t think about that, I only thought about what I could do to help. 

Overcoming fear. Fear, anxieties and panic attacks run rampant in our daily life these  days. I have great admiration for those who contain their fear in drastic real dangers like war.  I remember a soldier being asked by a TV reporter about his feelings about fighting in a far-away war. “I may not be happy about it,” he said, “but we have a job to do.” Too often fear in everyday life paralyzes us.  

One of my favorite phrases that can guide many situations in everyday life is, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”    

Honor.  Honor and respect has eroded in our current sadly selfish society.  I hear so many parents complain of smart-alecky kids, teachers of disrespectful students, and spouses of overly-critical partners. In grave opposition to the abuse that led to the #MeToo movement of today, another current movement revives the ancient tradition of “honoring the goddess” whereby women respect themselves and men treat women with reverence. The corresponding ancient Sanskrit greeting “Namaste” indicates that “the divinity in me honors (greets and sees) the divinity in you.”   

A beautiful video about remembering those who died in Vietnam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y64zTRlrmo 

Bless all the men and women who perished in the course of conflict and war so that we may live courage, devotion to others, pride, loyalty and honor, in peace.    

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