Our group in society

It is quite surprising how every once in a while, suddenly many things become more clear.  I had been struggling with some thoughts, not understanding some mental philosophy concepts that were roaming around in my brain.  A couple of podcasts have managed to provide the vocabulary that I was searching for to help express my thoughts.
This post series (of 3) will be a cross between a “dealing with Cancer mental health” piece, a bit of a rant, dash of politics, and a large dollop of what I think is wrong with society today.  I will mix this all together in a bowl, bake at 350 for 12 minutes and hope that I get a palatable result.
In doing things a little different, I won’t provide links in the text to the reference material – I will provide it all at the end of the post – footnote style.  If you have the time, and listen to podcasts, audiobooks or read blogs – take a couple of hours and check them out.

This blog is part 1 in a 3 part series of some observations I have made about society, where it is going, and why some of the things are happening in the way they are.  The next 2 posts are scheduled for release 15 March, and 15 April.

I will use terms like tribe, club, group, and association interchangeably during this post – if the context doesn’t make sense, feel free to substitute a term until it makes sense to you.  I won’t really have a system that I use during the post, I hope it all flows for you.

In spring 2017 or so, I was catching up on some podcasts that I have fallen behind on.  During a drive to meet a group of people for brunch, a podcast with Jack Donovan helped provide some context to my journey, and a later podcast with Stephen Mansfield became the motivation to tell this story, now that I feel an understanding about how I have been impacted.

As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, I have been part of a unique segment of society that had developed a culture of honour, respect, and accountability among its members.  Now as I approach the having completed 28 year point (April 1, 2018) of being a member of that group, I have discovered some interesting shifts in perspective.  Most notably among these perspectives was the profound feeling that I was no longer “in the club” upon my diagnosis and move to Edmonton.

When I joined the military as a young pimple faced kid with a mullet (the audience for that first haircut loved it), I was given an Air Force Blue uniform. That was one of the first groups that I felt I was joining.  As you progress through your training, your group becomes more and more exclusive.  My path was through basic training, then on to my wings as an Air Navigator, then to my aircraft fleet (The mighty Sea King), then as a member of a Squadron (posted HS 443 in December 1992), and then a member of individual detachments within the Squadron.  In my various postings around the Maritime Helicopter fleet (Victoria BC and Halifax, NS), I was just moving from one crew to another, and was always welcomed.

I left my aviation community 20 years later for the Arctic community, where we referred to ourselves as “the island of misfit toys”.  We had a good group there, as the unit was small, many people showed up knowing almost nobody, and we were on the road – a lot. But very quickly we could form bonds and friendships that will last a long time.  I was constantly away and Mrs got better support there from the smaller unit.  We felt included.
Part of that was the Northern culture – nobody can survive alone, so everyone helps everyone. It was very community oriented(more about that in part 2 of the series).
Then we moved to Edmonton, where my job was to be a cancer patient.  No real military community for me, and it was a pretty rough move.  Facebook friends might remember my rants. In the years to come, I will rehash some of those problems and stories into blog posts.

Back to the podcasts

The podcasts talk about a band of brothers (not the HBO series), a tribe, club, or group and the value that is placed upon members that can belong to such exclusive groups.  One discusses the honour that was valued among the groups.  They speak to the fact that the qualities that are needed to be part of the group, are what is valued by the group.  Members have expectations to meet, and are held accountable by the group for the overall success of the organization.

Many service clubs are honour groups; a grouping of like-minded individuals, putting their service before self, and supporting causes for greater good.  Many communities have these groups – Lions clubs, Elks Lodge, and Masonic lodges (they go way back for history), who are serving the good of the community.  But many of these groups are falling on hard times.  I have heard of Lions clubs closing their doors, and I know that many volunteer groups struggle to maintain membership.

When you look back through history, Veteran groups have been a substantial part of community support in post conflict eras.  The most notable is the Legion… discussed quite a bit in a recent blog post, so I won’t dwell on them here.  But, they are the same concept, suffering the same problems of membership and accountability.

As society changes.

Early in my career, the Squadron life was very close, members not deployed looked out for the families of members on deployments, making sure that everything was ok.  The supportive brotherhood (including women) always came together to help each other move, yard renos, or any other event that could bring the group together.  The number of people who I helped move, decks built, stumps pulled, fences erected, got longer over the years.
As time passed, I noticed the decrease in people coming out to help.  Trying to get people to help when I had some moving to do, or deck to build – came up with only 2 people each time (1 person was there for both events).  When I was deployed in the early 2000s, and my wife needed emergency assistance and phoned the unit – she was laughed at when she made a request.  Fast forward to my Afghanistan deployment, many said they would check in on my family and see how things were going – only 2 followed through, and were there to help.

So, what was different?

Believe it or not, I understand how the culture within the group has changed.  No longer are people showing up to work and being sent to shovel the driveways and walks of a deployed members family.  There are 2 parts to this – less people were living in the nearby PMQ patch community, and Force reductions meant that there weren’t spare bodies to support this task as efficiency has narrowed the available bodies to the minimum required to carry on tasks.

I feel these circumstances have caused some of the brotherhood aspects of military service to become lost.  As a junior member of the team, you supported your brethren through the conduct of such support tasks, knowing that the support would be there for you when you needed it for your own family.  So, now as a junior member of the group, you don’t see the level of support, so it isn’t something you emulate, and the system has died.

So where does this leave a person?

In searching for new groups after my most recent move, I discovered a number of challenges.  It isn’t easy to find a new club to belong to now.  Normally a military posting automatically puts you into a new group(unit) to allow you to build bonds.  But a cancer diagnosis puts you in a situation where there isn’t a club that you work with.
So, you go looking.
Cancer support groups are an interesting dynamic – took me a number of visits and different groups to find one.  The challenges that I found in a number of groups was that as the newcomer, I walked into a group where everyone else was looking at me to provide support.  I walked in with more questions than answers, but found myself being expected to provide more help than receive assistance.  As a newly diagnosed patient – not what I was looking for.

Such is the nature of many clubs, groups, and associations.  The more strict the grouping of individuals, the more effort you must put in to be a part of it.  You need to prove that you are willing to support the group, that eventually you will request the support from.
The less strict the group, the more drama, problems, and strife, within the group due to less accountability on the members – the easier to belong (in theory).  So, everyone is free to misbehave.

I have made some really solid friendships here since the Cancer diagnosis and my move.  The number is small, and I truly enjoy the time I get to spend with these friends, and hope for more time in the future.  It was more of a challenge than I thought, as this really is the first time that I haven’t moved to a location that had a built-in group/circle of friends, that I was joining.
I guess that is a big part of why many military, RCMP, and other groups, that move frequently, don’t end up with many friends outside the group, partially because they show up into an existing group, don’t necessarily have the requirement to expand those circles beyond that group.
But, that network can only carry you so far.  As mentioned already, more and more military families are not living in the PMQ patch, and as such working to develop the bonds in their non-military community.  More on this in part 2.

Thanks for reading this far.
In part 2 of this series, I intend to address the society observations about community standards and accountability.  I will also try to articulate – “why” I think this has happened.
Part 3 will connect the 2 parts in a finale wrap up.

links to the podcasts that helped me think about this:

Stephen Mansfield

Jack Donovan