Warrior is a loaded word, if you’ll allow me the pun, one with a history and a debate about that history that goes back centuries. At this point, I’m not going to consider all that history, but as I continue to muse on this concept, I’m sure that I’ll refer to it–and in its light, refine my own thoughts–frequently.
Yet admittedly I’m still interested (at least for now) in playing on one side effect of that history, i.e., the emotional meaning of the word. It’s a word that goes for the gut. I like that. At this point, I don’t want so much to explore the warrior’s relationship to violence (although I realize that can never be ignored), but rather the relationship to emotional energy, to the quality Plato in The Republic noted as being “spirited.” Perhaps that’s why I’m currently drawn to an idea of “warrior-in-spirit.”
For now, let’s loosely define this “spirit” as a gut emotional energy, one that is outward-oriented, yet one also not without its inner, reflective element. Ambition plays its part, although less as a status (though, granted, that’s nice), but more as a sense of purpose, of wanting to take this energy and put it somewhere in the world that will go someplace, someplace meaningful and honorable. Justice plays its part as well, although more as fairness, as an equitable “you follow through, and I’ll follow through, deal?”
It’s a powerful energy, one that can easily–and, sadly, often–hurt, physically at its worst, emotionally at its just-as-worst. As I said last post, it’s an energy that, in one way, makes the warrior popular, while, in another way, makes him or her somebody to “please have a seat over there and we’ll get back with you in a few years.” (And yes, I do believe that the warrior-in-spirit way of being is independent of sex, although, granted, it has most often been the blessing-curse of certain men.)
If we start with this very broad categorization, let me share a few thoughts for the day, again with the goal of helping professionals understand the complexities of many combat veterans’ experiences.
1. Not all veterans–even combat veterans–are warriors-in-spirit. But for those who are–and many indeed are–God be with you.
This may come as a surprise to many professionals, but believe me: it’s true. Granted, I do think one could say this: the military experience brings out the warrior in all who participate in it. If one looks hard enough, one will find a warrior inside. I’m not quite sure how this could be otherwise, given the role of the warrior in cultures both of the West and of the East, in our myths, our religious stories, our historical tales told round the fire or round the classroom.
Finding a warrior within and being a “warrior-in-spirit” are two different matters, though. The warrior-in-spirit does not need any help getting in touch with his or her “inner warrior,” whether in basic training or in martial arts classes. That warrior sense, that warrior energy pulsates inside the individual’s body and soul. It’s an energy that demands expression in some way–and if that means destructive, then so be it. If that energy does not invade the outer world in some form, it will invade the inner world–and with a vengeance.
And believe me: there’s no greater destruction the warrior will experience than when his or her spirited-energy begins to devour one’s heart and mind. That’s what often drives many combat veterans into their basements, their bedrooms, to protect those whom they love from that energy’s destructive force and to fight as well as one can–alone–that same force that threatens to disintegrate the veteran, no questions asked.
Just because the veteran in front of you once served in combat, don’t assume the veteran is a warrior-in-spirit. But if the veteran in front of you exudes a certain tension–or, at the opposite end, seems so deadened, it is as if a whole world of inner experience is being walled off–then consider the possibility that you’ve got a warrior-in-spirit on your hands.
2. Warriors-in-spirit don’t have to go into the military in our society, given the multiple ways we tolerate even high levels of aggression (or as we most often try to soften its rhetorical impact, assertiveness) within certain professions and activities.
I’ve got to tell you: you want to sit with a room full of individuals, men and women, who are not in the military, yet who are warriors-in-spirit par excellence? Go sit in on a class at the Harvard Law School. Lord have mercy, were there struggles to beat the band there, or what. Someone was always outraged about something, on the Left, on the Right, in the Middle, nowhere in particular. Some of the best, live, reality-TV high theater I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching occurred in those in-your-face, this-is-important, peoples’-lives-are-at-stake classes such as Torts (injury law), Criminal Law, and Constitutional Law. Russ Crowe had nothing on those gladiators, I’ll tell you.
Quite frankly, one hope for returning combat veterans who are indeed warriors-in-spirit is that they can find a place in one of the more in-your-face professions of our society, which usually means a profession that involves some form of advocacy, the very word itself being from the Latin for “talking-at-you.” That, warriors-in-spirit can do with style.
Unfortunately, though, there are not as many of those positions in our society as one might think. In general, society keeps itself running on get-the-job-done quietness, not talking-at you. As before, warriors-in-spirit might be called on to knock a little sense into a situation every once in a while, but they’re almost always then expected to get back on the assembly line and keep working.
3. The warrior-in-spirit cannot be reconstructed or rehabiliated into a more “congenial” type through exhortation or threat, whether those be of a secular or of a religious nature.
You think warriors-in-spirit don’t already know that they’d be far better off if they could just “get over it” and become more like those who can put on the warrior uniform for a period and then hang it back up in the closet–those for whom the “warrior” lives more in the peripheries of their soul, rather than right smack-dab in the center, as it does for the warrior-in-spirit? I mean, do you think this warrior-in-spirit stuff is some kind of lark, a good time to be had by all, one in which one gets that inimitable pleasure of being both screamed at to “save us” and then almost simultaneously screamed at to “settle down”?
Let me leave it at that today. Maybe next time I might ponder some “rules of the road” that professionals could consider offering combat veterans who are warriors-in-spirit, ones that might help them understand why they often feel as bad about themselves as they do, why people both admire them and fear them, and thus how they may be able to “get along” a bit better as they learn to find a place within the world–and within themselves–that is more fruitful and less painful.