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Say “Thank You” to a veteran by listening.

9 November 2009 No Comment

Level: Community — Pillar: Conflict Transformation

This week’s featured story came in from Jerusalem, Israel:

While we as peacebuilders are still working on our goal of ending wars, our societies continue to “produce” veterans. It has become clear that sending people to war takes a high toll – first on them and over time on us as a society.

One form of respect we can pay to our veterans is to show them that we are interested and care about what happened for them while on duty and once they are back at home. This is not about politics but about one person caring about another one, irrespective of circumstances. Listening is the central tool in doing this. It does not mean trying to get an interesting story or trying to fix veterans or their lives. It means not avoiding a veteran because we have uncomfortable feelings about them or the actions they may have been involved in and not looking away if common sense tells us that they might be in a difficult situation. And it also means not giving up quickly because they seem hesitant to talk. Just being with a veteran – prepared to hold whatever they might want to share – is important.

Why is this important? Because veterans bring a piece of the war they fought back home. It is an inner wound of sorts. By listening to them, we support veterans in processing experiences they might otherwise struggle with by themselves over an extended period. Listening supports a veteran’s healing and it also supports greater society’s recovery from wars.

How about making a long-term commitment to truly listen to one veteran that you know?

This will require time and patience because the veteran might not immediately be interested in talking to you. He or she may take some time to check whether you are trustworthy, actually interested, and will not judge them. You will have to hang in there with them, and with their families, without pushing for anything in particular – a detail or a story – and being ready to listen whenever they want to talk. You might be surprised that they have many good things to tell about their service, about things they learned or friendships they made.

I have found that one of the biggest challenges in this is to not assume or expect anything particular but to be there with genuine, open interest in everything a veteran is willing to share.

Maybe we can use this occasion of Veteran’s Day to practice the art of listening and to learn so much along the way.

Silke Denker
Jerusalem, Israel

Please use the comments section below to share your experience listening to a veteran talk about her or his experiences.

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