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VIEWPOINTS Becoming a different kind of hero
by Mike Dilbeck
2011-10-26

This article shared 2724 times since Wed Oct 26, 2011
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While the official end of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy absolutely represents progress for the military and for America, the immediate impact of the change could be a step backward. If soldiers are free to disclose their sexual orientation, which they now are, others who are inclined to harass and taunt based on sexual orientation will now know who to harass and taunt.

Let's face it, there was a reason the military sought to keep sexual orientation private. It's the same reason many gay and lesbian Americans choose to stay in the closet—too often, people who are different are victims of bullying, ridicule or worse from co-workers, classmates and other peers. The military is no exception to this sad fact of human nature.

Ultimately, what this repeal does is allow all service members to serve with dignity and honor. This solution, the repeal, is also to expose and deal with this sort of harassing behavior, so ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is absolutely the right thing to do. However, the military must make sure that gay military members being more open does not result in them being more open targets.

Now I'm sure some people reading this will think, "You can't legislate morality," or some other such bromide that prompted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the first place. No you can't change people's hearts by changing a policy. But if most of us believe in doing the right thing—and I sincerely believe that most of us do—we can bring the rest of us along.

That is why the Response Ability Project, a Chicago-based organization that I founded recently, is launching the Every|Day Hero Campaign, a program designed to empower the everyday hero in all of us. Ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" offers a perfect opportunity to put the principles of this initiative into practice, and a good example of why they are needed.

The goal of the Every|Day Hero Campaign is to empower people to do something every day for improving conditions they encounter in everyday life. We are all bystanders to certain situations that call for our attention and our actions. In those situations, we must act. We must do something or at least say something. Yet, too often, we do not.

Participants in the Every|Day Hero Campaign pledge to become an everyday hero and to do at least one good act every day before they go to bed at night—something that will make a difference for someone, an organization or an issue. The best way to make this world the place we want it to be—that it could be—is if everybody had the mindset, from the time they wake up, 'I will be a hero today.' It can simply mean smiling at somebody because they're having a bad day. Or it could mean urging someone with a drug-abuse problem to get help, intervening when a friend is drinking too much or speaking up when someone harasses someone because they are different.

It is not just the military, of course, that needs everyday heroes. As I write this, there is a story in the news about teens at Urban Prep Academy in Chicago who say they're being chased, harassed and even robbed as they walk to and from school. The students—who wear uniforms that suggest discipline and respect for authority—clearly distinguish them from the neighborhood thugs harassing them. The students say the thugs taunt them for being too smart.

I'm sure that these thugs are far from the best that this neighborhood has to offer and that they bring as much shame to the neighborhood as they do pain to the school. But how many residents take the attitude that it is their responsibility to do something about the situation? Whether it is a resident calling the police when they spot trouble, a parent keeping track of his or her child or a business offering a teenager a job, everyone can do something.

Changing our attitudes and behavior is not easy, but people can be trained to do it. That is why the military offers such a good opportunity to lead the way with the ending of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Soldiers are highly accustomed to the concept of getting and following training. Leaders of the Armed Forces did prepare personnel for the ending of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell;" however, I think they can go further. While they have done specific bystander intervention training regarding sexual assault, military leaders should institute this same specific training to prevent harassment of gay personnel. And, in the meantime, service members can simply use what they already know from the training they have had and apply it in all situations.

This training would fall on fertile ground. Honoring our country is a mindset deeply ingrained in the military, but what does this honor look like? I argue that we best honor our country by treating one another honorably. In the era following "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military has a golden opportunity to show us how this can be done.

It really is that simple. And, yes, I am clear—it's not always easy.

Mike Dilbeck is founder of the RESPONSE ABILITY Project and the Every|Day Hero Campaign. You can find him at www.RAProject.org .


This article shared 2724 times since Wed Oct 26, 2011
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