Beyond the Silverware

raccoon banging silverware
There’s a whole story about this involving NYC political priorities and Veterans and free food, so I made this image to amuse friends. But it’s appropriate here.

Contribution to society isn’t just something to value, it is critical to survival. We all need a reason to get up in the morning or to reconcile the decisions of our past. Research shows resilience – the ability to rebound from past traumatic and negative experiences – depends on maintaining a positive view of our current and potential future place in the world. When you feel as though you are making a difference, you are more likely to build resilience. When you lose resilience you risk becoming identified only by your past, and slipping into becoming a Silverware Banger.

Chances are you have encountered the North American Silverware Banger, particularly if you are connected to the military or veteran communities. Commonly found in chain restaurants and retail stores, they are identified through incessant complaining about an establishment’s lack of military discount. Upon finding out a discount is not offered – or worse, finding a student or senior discount is offered when one for military is not – the Banger defines the moniker as they begin pounding their knife and fork upon the table and demanding their free appetizer. Believing they have already contributed to society through volunteering for service, they are now reluctant to do as much as pay full price for a Bloomin’ Onion.

Silverware Bangers are not exclusive to military and veterans, but these communities seem to be experiencing a boom in the recent two decades of war. An increasingly polarized political environment combined with social media fanning the flames of what some believe is mandatory patriotism, this vocal minority is now risking overpopulation. Indeed, as Bangers become louder and more prevalent they risk the generosity of the supporting population wearing thin. Meanwhile, those who need and rely on those benefits after falling on harder times may find the offers become fewer. 

The secondary effect of a Silverware Banger infestation is an oversaturation of the less prevalent Professional Veteran. Quieter than the Banger, these are individuals who view providing their opinions and sharing their experiences to the greater civilian population as their primary contribution to society. While their motives may be noble in trying to help normalize military service to those who did not or could not serve and form a better perception of the experience, they fall into a trap where they continue living in their past – be it glory or trauma – and struggle to push themselves forward. Their stories may provide hope or elicit empathy or just a sense of adventure, but the individual is not inspired to continue progressing. They risk losing the ability to adapt, focused too much on what they were instead of what they could still become. They may delay or reject learning other skills or finding other employment, stagnating their growth for years following service.

I was once in danger of becoming a Professional Veteran. I embedded myself in groups that were supposed to help with reintegration but felt more like echo chambers of war stories. Over time I watched some of the other Professional Veterans around me turn into Silverware Bangers, and few could motivate themselves to break the cycle. Nearly all seemed stagnant in their families, education, and careers. The more stuck they were, the more likely they were to show signs of depression – myself included. It was hard to escape, to seek and trust civilian support and find activities that would encourage me to divide my time better. It was after I broke the loop I could learn new skills and soon started a company to help find paths for others that could prevent slipping into these pitfalls.

This is not to say the military and veteran community should not take advantage of the generosity and support when it is offered. The sharing of experiences is also critical in a time when only approximately 5% of the adults living in the country have served and fewer than 1% have seen combat. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first large-scale, non-peacekeeping operations since Vietnam, and are the first sustained combat engagements with an all-volunteer force. The benefits and services offered can sustain an individual through reintegration to help a whole family adapt and become more resilient, and the disconnect between service members and civilians needs to be resolved if we hope to benefit society. Using these benefits – healthcare, education, volunteering, skilled employment, and more – and sharing experience is critical to health and well being and will remain critical at different points throughout the rest of our lives.

It’s knowing when and how to move on – and where to move on to – that is so elusive but so crucial. Roadmaps and guidance helps, pushing each other helps, having a diverse network of friends and family outside of the military and veteran sphere helps. We need to be wary of the Silverware Bangers and the Professional Veterans, conscious of identifying and stopping it in ourselves, and we need to do what we can to assist each other. We must always keep in mind the four or ten or twenty years served may have been terrible or amazing (and usually both), but we now need to shift our focus to create the same amount of pride in what we do for the next forty. 

I am proud of what I did in the service, but I am also proud of what I’ve accomplished since and what I can do in the future. I intend to still make a tangible difference. But I can’t do it if I’m sitting around banging my silverware on the table.

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