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Kevlar for the Mind: In civilian world, many military courtesies are left behind

Jul. 25, 2013 - 06:11PM   |  
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After I left the military, it seemed to me that as a society, our sense of empathy and kindness toward others had diminished. Our connection with individuals had lessened, and our desire to help the person next to us wasn’t what it used to be.

As any good psychologist would, I was moved to ask, “Why? What had happened to us as a society?”

One answer that immediately came to mind: “I’m a civilian now!” Maybe it wasn’t society; maybe it was me.

I had been so used to military culture, with its courtesies and displays of respect and deference, that my psyche needed time to adjust to the rudeness of civilians.

My experience was hardly unique. I have heard of many officers and seasoned enlisted members who had a tough time adjusting to the differences in their treatment as civilians compared with what they experienced as senior leaders.

However, as quickly as I came up with my answer, my mind generated an impressive list of rude, disrespectful and at times hostile social interactions that I had with DoD civilians and senior officers while I was on active duty. And I realized that civilians have no monopoly on rudeness.

Regardless of who’s worse or what’s behind the differences, as a service member who has left or is preparing to leave the military, you should be aware of these differences and understand that you will not always be treated as respectfully as you were while in uniform.

So, before you order the smart-aleck kid behind the ice cream counter to drop and give you 20, remember that you need some time to adjust. Here are a few tips that may help the process go more smoothly:

1. Remember that you still represent the honor and traditions of your past service. Act accordingly.

2. Before you “go off” on someone who you feel has disrespected you, ask yourself, “How would I act if this person was my mother, father or child?” My guess is you’d temper your response or let it go.

3. Remind yourself that you will need to adjust your expectations of how you should be treated. If not, you’ll get angry almost every time a civilian doesn’t meet them, which will be often.■

Bret A. Moore is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. Email kevlarforthemind @militarytimes.com. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

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