As we all reflect back on our own Extremism Stand-down experiences, it is vital that we keep the conversation open. We have to keep asking questions, keep engaging with each other, most important of all, keep learning and growing. I would argue that few, if any of us, have “arrived.” Thus if we as Americans want an attempt at more perfect union, then we must keep communicating.
As I prepared to engage the 86th Force Support Squadron family for the Extremism stand-down day, I talked to friends, my dad, my trusted Chaplain, and my amazing wife Lauren. I quickly realized that what was directed to discuss was yet another “-ism.” You have had stand-down days to discuss racism in 2020, suicide in 2019, and now we’ve just discussed extremism in 2021. Have we solved anything during these collective days? Are we really better? More importantly, what inspires me to be better?
I am inspired by my wife, who served in the Air Force for 8.5 years, who has an amazingly difficult and disgusting experience of sexism, gender discrimination and other hardships that I cannot even begin to fully understand. Her story is full of resiliency and excelling as a woman, mother, and wife, and the Air Force will be but a footnote in her full story. Similarly I found inspiration in Lt. Col. Alexis Johnson’s inspiring story from a couple weeks ago https://www.ramstein.af.mil/News/Commentaries/Display/Article/2484197/leading-through-adversity/.
It’s a tough story, it’s not pretty, but it is an invaluable opportunity to learn from looking at life through her experience. As for me, a tall white man with almost 15 years of service, it probably isn’t surprising or shocking that I do not have a single story that resembles anything these two incredibly amazing women have had to experience. So what should I learn? What can I do?
So here’s what I’ve learned and shared with my FSS family. I believe in a culture of honor. When you honor something or someone, you are placing a value on that object or person. When you live in a culture of honor, you value others because you value yourself! Secondly, we as Americans live with a spirit of offense. A spirit of offense will never let go of you, you have to let go of it. Living offended will leave you stuck, closed off and prevent the growth that we require to be better.
Lastly, we make a big deal of changing the world by making it seem impossible and intimidating. If you take the small steps and invest in people around you, you can change the world by simply changing the world for one person. Don’t let something small stand between you and something big…the best is yet to come!