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Why don’t civilians ask veterans more questions? | TED

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In a nutshell, we don't even know where to begin asking questions.

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In his TED Talk, Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore and a paratrooper and Army captain in Afghanistan, shares the lone two comments he gets from civilians when he tells them he served: “Thank you for your service” and “Did you shoot anyone?” The first seems kind enough, but Moore sees it as a brush-off, an opportunity for the conversation to move on before venturing anywhere uncomfortable. As for the second, he says, at least it shows some type of curiosity.

It did, of course, occur to me to ask my then-boyfriend, “Did you kill anyone?” But it also felt hugely insensitive, and if the answer were yes, what would I have done with that information?John Ismay reflects on this question in a lovely essay for PolicyMic: “The question isn’t about that vet. It’s about you, and your own morbid curiosity about an experience outside your own life’s script.”

For veterans, could this division of scripts lead to a heightened sense of alienation? Sebastian Junger — a longtime war reporter who embedded in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, which saw a high percentage of fighting in the country — notes in his TED Talk that soldiers often miss war because of the incredible sense of brotherhood and connection that develops in combat situations, where each individual cares more about the well-being of others than their own. Returning home to find so many people unwilling to ask simple questions must certainly further an in-group, out-group feeling.

Moore suggests a few simple questions to start surfacing the stories of veterans:

What did you do there?What was the food like?What was the experience like?

Meanwhile, The Public Insight Network put together this list of questions veterans themselves wished people would ask them. A few especially stuck out: How did your military service shape the person you are today? Another is stunningly simple: How are you doing?

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