Monday, May 21, 2012

Homecoming: Men, War and Passion

In recent news U.S. President Barack Obama is talking about bringing soldiers in Afghanistan home. Afghanistan is a country that has engaged the militaries and billions of dollars of two super powers in two different decades with results that have been less than satisfactory to this point.

It may sound a little strange to ask this question but what passions does going to war and fighting fulfill in men that these seemingly endless cycles of battle persist?
If we don’t know, how will we ever genuinely help young boys and men discover passions that ultimately lead to their well-being, health and wholeness as human beings, the goal most families and communities ultimately share around the world.
Perhaps part of the exploration includes examining our fascination with the power, mastery and mystery involved in being a warrior.

As a boy I was often prepared to identify opposing athletic teams as “the enemy” rather than mere opponents in a game with structure, rules, goals and rewards. Our coaches gave us “weapons” in the form of  personal skill building and team building, then provided adversity in which to test those in the form of games and tournaments. In some of these games, our assigned goal was to “take our opponents out,” though that did not mean total annihilation as it does in the millions of practice sessions today’s youth have playing virtual games.

When our team won, we felt powerful, masterful and reenacted our “war stories” over and over. That may have included grudging admiration of some of our opponents though they played bit parts in our exciting recounting of the drama.
We are also fascinated with the power of destruction, especially when we seem to be in command of its forces.

I will never forget my first kill with a rifle. A single shot .22 with a jack rabbit in the wrong place at the wrong time. The mystery of how a beating heart can be so quickly stopped by such a simple act makes an indelible impression.  Suddenly, it’s no longer a game, it’s about life and death.

In a 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary film, Operation Homecoming: Writing the War-Time Experience, published writers, some of them famous, assist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to write about their experiences. The passions that drive men to battle become more and more clear with each added voice introduced during the film.  The stated reasons for going to war shift as the real experience of battle hurls men (and women) into the most violent and chaotic situations they’d ever encountered.
What begins to emerge through these powerful and moving narratives is that the concept of honor and patriotism begin to take a backseat to the soldiers real human needs to belong to each other, back each other up, take care of each other, and stay connected in the face of life threatening danger.
So far in my career employing The Passion Test as the premier tool for discovering men’s passions, I’ve not yet met a man for whom close relationships, the desire to belong to something greater than himself, the desire to have a powerful influence on his world were not somewhere on his list.
As it turns out, those men whose lives were shaped and directed in such a way that military service and war-time experience seemed the best means for achieving personal power, mastery and sense of belonging are no different than anyone else.

For me the question becomes: If war is a means of fulfilling passions whose ultimate end can be sacrificing one’s life, are there equally powerful and compelling means that provide the warrior experience that don’t necessitate the tremendous toll in human lives, environmental and social destruction and the whole sale draining of an economy?
What would it look like to replace a war-based economy with a passion-based economy? And what fundamental human needs could be fulfilled that are now too often fulfilled through endless and dehumanizing battle?
The answers lie within the hearts of men when given a real choice and alternatives.
Check out Operation Homecoming at: