Friday, August 27, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood:
Their world is not your world

(In this entry, I assume you are aware of my goal of raising a lot of money to help child soldiers by donating all of my earnings from sales of the hardback of Children No More to Falling Whistles. If you're not, you can go to the Children No More site and learn more there. I'll be here when you return.)

What I experienced in my three years in a militaristic youth group is nothing compared to what true child soldiers undergo. I believe, however, that they and I, as well as many abused children, emerge from our experiences having learned many of the same lessons. To help folks without these backgrounds understand some of the challenges facing these kids--and those who seek to help rehabilitate and reintegrate them--I'm going to talk about some of the lessons I learned--and that I believe they did, too.

Before I do, though, I want to make clear that I know how unhealthy these lessons are, I don't live my life by them, and so on.

They are, though, what such kids learn, and they are what I learned at that age.

Also, beware that there's going to be rough language and generally harsh stuff in all of these lessons. That's the nature of them.

Enough disclaimers. Let's get on with today's lesson:

Their world is not your world

You know they exist in the same space as you; after all, they can hurt you. You quickly figure out, however, that space is about all you share.

In their world, people can scream at each other and think that five minutes later it meant nothing. In your world, the scream is the precursor to violence, so when you hear it, you ramp up: adrenaline floods your system, and you prepare to fight.

In their world, people threaten one another with no intent of following through. In your world, you never make a threat you're not prepared to complete, because if you ever do, no one will take you seriously again, and you need them to know that fighting you is not a good plan.

In their world, they'll say that they'll kill you if you do that again. In your world, you stand ready to kill them if they do it again.

In their world, hurt feelings are the worst that will happen. In your world, blood and broken bits occur all the time, and you understand completely that they are far from the worst that can happen. That has happened.

In their world, concepts like team and loyalty and giving your word are as insubstantial as morning mist, notions that are powerful for a short time and then vanish in the light and heat of the day. In your world, they are everything, all that you have to give, and when you give them, you give them completely, fully understanding that the price may be dear.

In their world, they are safe no matter what they do. They mock the man in front of them in line, not noting the gun bulge or the telltale drug-induced alertness. They walk down the dark street because it could be a shortcut. They see no threats, because nothing has hurt them. In your world, you know that safety is as easy to rip apart as skin, that threats are everywhere, and that if you haven't spotted the attack before it starts, you screwed up, and you will pay.

Their world is a much nicer place than yours. You wish that you could live in it, that you didn't know yours existed, but those wishes are even flimsier than safety, because once you've lived in your world, you live there always.

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