I read Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw a few weeks ago, and it really resonated with what I've seen happening in America. I'd like to think that as veterans we are immune to some of the outrage culture that is talked about in the book, but unfortunately that's not really the case.
In this episode, I do a brief review of the book, and give examples of how to reframe your thinking so that you make the best of bad situations you may find yourself in. In the book, Dan Crenshaw makes mention of the Saturday Night Live joke that was made about him, and what his response was to it. The joke, and the rebuttal are below if you haven't seen them yet.
I also opened an invitation to Rep. Crenshaw to come on the show to discuss his book and his time in the Navy. You never get anything if you don't ask for it, right?
Links & Resources
- Pete Davidson's "joke" about Dan Crenshaw:
- Dan Crenshaw's SNL appearance:
Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in. I don't have a guest for today's show, but I do have a topic that I think is pretty important that I would like to talk about.
A couple weeks ago I read a book called Fortitude, by Congressman and former Navy Seal, Dan Crenshaw. The book is all about the current American outrage culture. Actually, I say American, but this outrage culture probably goes beyond our borders to parts of Europe and beyond as well. I'm not too concerned with those places though. The book talks about the American spirit, which in years past was characterized by resilient, gritty people. Think of The Greatest Generation. The folks, largely men, who fought and won World War II on both the European and Pacific fronts. The resilient people who survived the Great Depression. The women who went to work in the factories while their husbands were away at war. This is a group of people who suffered hardship after hardship, yet they came out with the ability to survive and solve the problems that are set before them.
Those were the people who would watch movies with rough and tough actors like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. They were tough, resilient, and didn't let a little setback, or hell even a big setback, defeat them.
In the book, Dan Crenshaw tells about how an IED destroyed one of his eyes and blinded him in the other. If it wasn't for his persistence with his doctors and their skilled hands, he wouldn't have recovered vision in his left eye. Then, not to let some little setback like getting blown the fuck up hold him back, he then went on to complete two more deployments, graduated with a Master's degree from Harvard, then to represent the state of Texas in the US House of Representatives.
When faced with setbacks, or devastating news like this we're faced with a few choices that we have to make. And these are choices. We can choose how we react to these situations. First, we can be overwhelmed by the adversity. We can shut down, get mad or frustrated all while angrily blaming others for our situation. We can yell about how we were wronged and how someone else has to fix the problem. On the other hand, we can accept the situation for what it is and adjust so that we can have the greatest chance of success.
Let's take a quick look at Dan Crenshaw's situation. He was blown up by an IED. Both eyes were severely damaged, with one being completely destroyed. He could have gotten angry at the guy who made the bomb. He could have blamed the guy who triggered the bomb to detonate. He could have been outraged at the US government for sending him to a miserable country that can't even handle it's own affairs. He could have been upset with the medics and the doctors who maybe could have done something more to save his eye. He could have been angry at his family for not talking him out of joining the military. He could have held a grudge against his teammates who didn't spot the IED before it blew up.
Now, let's think about all of those reactions. All of them are certainly understandable reactions. I mean I'd be pissed if I got blown up and lost my vision. I can't imagine too many people who wouldn't be. But what is the outcome of all of those reactions? Nothing will really change will it? Getting angry at the guy who made the bomb - I mean the guy didn't exactly leave his phone number next to the bomb so it's probably pretty tough to find out who it was, so what good is that going to do? Blaming the guy who stepped on the IED wouldn't do any good either. Outrage against the government? I mean you could protest, but they're probably not going to change anything, so really what's the point? Being mad with the medics and doctors who probably already feel like dirt because they couldn't save his eye wouldn't exactly help the situation. Being angry with his family would have been counterproductive at best. Family is often times all you have to lean on during difficult times like this.
Instead, he was determined to regain his vision. When doctors told him there was a slim chance that he'd ever see again, he pushed them to do the surgery that would ultimately end up saving his vision. His recovery forced him to lie face down for weeks while he battled hallucinations that were like a dream he never could wake up from. Seeing became his mission, and he wasn't going to give up on that mission. He could have medically retired from the Navy and collected disability for the rest of his life without having to do anything else. Instead, he went back to school and got his master's degree from Harvard. He's now representing his home state in Congress.
Do you see the difference between the first set of reactions and the second? The first set wouldn't accomplish anything except for maybe give an ulcer and ruin some relationships. The second reaction allowed him to make the best of a bad situation. He didn't just survive the bomb blast, but he's thriving now.
This is the issue we have in America these days. There are too many people who lash out. Scream and yell about this injustice or that injustice, and yet they accomplish nothing. People change their social media profile pictures in solidarity with one cause or another. They feel good that they're doing something, but in reality they're not doing anything. Nothing productive anyway.
But the people who yell and scream the loudest are the ones who are placed on a pedestal. They're the ones who are seen as righteous. They're looked up to the same way that The Greatest Generation looked up to John Wayne. This outrage culture appears to be turning the American spirit upside down. Tough is out, and weak is in. Cool and collected is out, upset and agitated are in. Self reliance is out, and dependence is in. Honor and respect is out, outrage and offense is in.
You might remember that Dan Crenshaw was the butt of a joke on Saturday Night Live by comedian Pete Davidson. The comedian made a joke about Crenshaw's eye patch and brushed off the fact that he was injured in war. Now, to many these days that would be the spark that leads to outrage. For Crenshaw, however, he took the opportunity to address the joke head on. He was even invited to be on Saturday Night Live the next week where the comedian apologized for the joke, and Crenshaw was able to get in a few lighthearted jabs at the comedian's expense.
Do you see how if Crenshaw became outraged, and maybe posted negative statements about the comedian on social media, called for him to be fired, or came back with insults nothing would really be accomplished. Maybe, at best, the comedian would have been fired. That's a best case scenario stemming from outrage. Worst case is nothing happens. Instead, Crenshaw accepted the invitation to be on Saturday Night Live where the comedian not only apologized, but also allowed them to talk about veterans issues on one of the biggest shows in the country.
Do you see the difference? With the outrage reaction, nothing positive happens. At best someone loses their job, which isn't positive. Maybe you don't like the person, but making someone lose their job is never positive. With the calm, cool response, the hatchet was buried, and they got to bring awareness to various veteran issues.
It also goes to show that we can laugh at ourselves instead of being outraged when someone pokes fun at us.
All of these things are choices that we can make. No one is forcing us to become outraged. We choose our reactions.
When I lost my brother in Afghanistan, I swung through a wide range of emotions that day.
I started off with sadness, which I think is completely understandable given the situation. I cried and was consoled by my friends. That is up until bullets started flying, and I had to get back to my squad. During the firefight I started to become angry. By the end I was so enraged that at the time I wanted nothing more than to wipe every Afghan off the face of the planet. I remember looking at some of the Afghan soldiers who were with us thinking how pathetic they were. How they couldn't even take care of their own country without us. If they could just handle their own situation us Americans wouldn't have had to be there in the first place. People like my brother wouldn't have had to die trying to rid them of the Taliban. That anger was short lived and as I found myself flying off of that mountaintop towards Bagram Air Base, I was able to find a bit of calm looking out over the barren Afghan terrain. By the time I got to Bagram I was still a mess emotionally and physically as I had injured my knee earlier that day. When I got to take a shower I found myself asking out loud "why Steve, why?" Obviously, I couldn't talk to my brother. I wasn't delusional, I knew he was dead. But I found myself asking God why he decided that 25 years was all my brother would get on this Earth? Why did bad things have to happen to good people? But in that moment I realized that I had to let go of my own understanding of what had happened and trust that something good could come from it. I had to let go of the anger that I held for the Afghan people. They didn't pull the trigger that killed my brother. Well one of them did, but I trusted at the time that there wasn't much left of that guy to be angry at. Ultimately, at the end of that day I landed on hope and faith. I had tried on all the other reactions - sadness, anger, outrage, blame - and none of them fit quite right. None of them provided me with a clear path to a better future. A path where something good could come from a tragic loss. Hope and faith are what I landed on. Hope for the future and faith that something good could come from the tragedy.
Now, don't get me wrong, some of these other emotions popped back up from time to time. I struggled with anger, insomnia, and a few unhealthy coping mechanisms. But I would usually be able to come back to hope. I knew that I could "what-if" the situation all day long, but it wouldn't bring my brother back to life. I could let the grief eat me up inside, but it wouldn't let me grow from the tragedy.
And I think that's one of the most important lessons that I learned from all of that. Bad things happen to people all the time. Sometimes by their own doing, and other times bad things just happen. If we can't learn and grow from these situations, well that's the greatest tragedy of all. Imagine if those people from the Greatest Generation didn't stand up and fight after Pearl Harbor? Imagine if they didn't learn how to become self reliant after the Great Depression. I'm pretty certain that history wouldn't have remembered them as the Greatest Generation.
If I became a mean, angry, miserable person who was always mad at the world, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have gotten me anywhere. Remember, we have to make a choice about how we react to a situation. The outrage or anger reaction rarely, if ever, leads to a positive outcome. Maybe that outrage and anger would have soured my relationship with my family. Maybe I would have found myself alone, living on the streets, or worse. I know that might seem like a stretch, but it's not like it hasn't happened before to other people. Why am I so special that it couldn't happen to me?
Instead, I have a loving wife who stuck by my side and while she did her best to be there for me, she also encouraged me to seek out professional help. She too had a choice to make. She could have become outraged at the person I had become. She could have yelled and screamed at me for being a jerk when I was having a bad day. Instead she chose patience. She was about as patient as one could be and she helped me get through probably the most difficult time in my life. Since then we've had two more children, and live in a loving home together.
Do you see the difference? Do you see how anger and outrage can't create positive outcomes? Do you see how respect and grace open the possibility to positivity even in face of a negative situation?
This is what our culture is missing out on these days.
Again, I want to mention the book Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw. If you haven't done so already, go out and get a copy. It's available in all the typical places, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and probably even in some smaller local bookstores, which I'd imagine could stand to use some of your business these days. So definitely go out and get the book. And forget about politics for a minute. Yes, the author is a Republican. I don't care if you're a Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist, Conservative, or whatever. This book has an important message that we all need to hear. So go check it out. Oh, and if you're listening Dan, I'd love to have you on the show to discuss the book, your time in the Navy, or hell, anything else you want to discuss. Consider it an open invitation.