Well, are you?
RUOK? A campaign which began in 2009 as an initiative of an Australian whose father was lost to suicide. The rationale is that many more people consider or attempt suicide that actually are successful, and that by having one day a year to ask this question it might raise awareness to help those who are struggling.
In some respects, RUOK? and the 22 Push-up Challenge are examples of “slacktivism”. An intervention which requires the bare minimum of effort. The collective effort is seen as the benefit of this intervention.
Many people ask whether this is of any value. It is a fair question.
Consider this: if someone is really struggling and you ask them “RUOK?” can you really expect for them to give you an honest answer. Our default towards avoiding pain and shame is that we will mostly brush off the question with a polite smile, and possibly even the even result in a stinging sense of alienation because the question seems to be so superficial.
So what is the alternative? Is it better not to ask?
Derek Weida is an American Iraq War veteran whose leg was amputated as a result of injuries while sustain on duty. He is is skilfully provocative with his posts on Facebook. Far from just seeking attention, I really believe he cares about what he talks about. Recently, he gave a lot of focus to ranting about the 22 Push Up Challenge. His view that people we far too obsessed with the number 22. Rather than being focused on strengths, it pushed us into a culture of victimhood. You can read more about this and see his video on this post at Task And Purpose.
Similarly, is RUOK? pointing to the hole which someone might be silently suffering in, rather than constructively building a way out? We could discuss this all day and not come to an unified response.
What do you think? Much like the 22 Push-Up Challenge, I believe that the RUOK? initiative is good, but it can’t stop there. There must be some action orientated activity following the question, often involving taking time to listen to another person.
Part of the reason I have been asking people to join me vicariously in the training for the marathon by adding “+10” to my daily post is that it gives a sense of the daily attention we need to bring to helping those who might need our support. It takes effort.
This current training and marathon is associated with raising awareness for the need to improve mental health among veterans. It is real, not just some social experiment.
I believe that the learnings from this will help in our understanding of what makes a difference in other areas too. I am doing this now because I care about the health of veterans, partly because I am a veteran myself. I also know that the benefits we realise from working out what works will help in this overarching pursuit that seeks to improve child survival.
Enough of the big ideas. I just want to finish by asking one question. Yes, I’m asking you. RUOK?
The first two blog posts to this update described where the 10 City Bridge Run initiative came from, and then how I intend to proceed to complete the journey through the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge.
The posts spoke broadly about these issues, and didn’t describe a plan to achieve these objectives in any detail as such. And so we come to this third update which I hope might help to address some of those queries.
Some of you might know that I previously served as an officer in the Australian Army, and am a veteran owing to the deployments I was sent on during that time. Issues of veteran health are something that matters to me. Veterans health is a complex issue. Too often it is reduced down to something like “the government sends people off to war and doesn’t take good enough care of them when they come home.” There is some truth to this, but it is also disturbingly suggestive of a victimhood culture that I don’t think rightly reflects the dignity of those who served their country. This of course if my opinion, and others will have a different view and might even heatedly disagree.
One of the disturbing trends has been mental health among veterans, which I believe is a function of transitioning from the military into life outside the military. I don’t know that you can ever really describe veterans as plain old citizens because they will always have a particular outlook on life that no one else will really understand unless they have too served. And it is not like we are robots. Everyone is different, but there is a trend of alienation which is disturbing.
Partly because of this trend, some people have suicided. Again, the reasons for this are many and complex, and so it is not sufficient to have a linear logic that makes correlation between veterans and suicide. I think we can all agree that it is a tragic and unacceptable situation.
While I was serving in the military, I had the sobering duty of investigating a number of suicides. All were tragic.
Whether the military system was at fault is something that can be argued and argued. I have an opinion, but because of the sensitive nature of the issue this is not the forum to discuss it, and it won’t be an opinion I will be offering to my friends, just in case you want to ask.
A figure has emerged from the US where it is alleged that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Admittedly, their military is very large, but even so this is outrageous. Particularly for a community who ought to have greater reserves of resilience and camaraderie, why should this be the case?
I had been thinking about this situation for some time, and coincidentally my good friend who lives in Washington D.C. at the same time invited me to take part in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting the American charity The Mission Continues. I had a lot of admiration for The Mission Continues, and while their efforts are focused on the US, the reach of their activity by example of what is possible extends globally. We can learn from best practice wherever it is found.
The timing of the marathon was good for me. I was wanting to reconcile my disappointing performance (in my eyes) during the 10 City Bridge Run with a subsequent run, and the launch of the Design Forum would occur around that time. Additionally, there was some crossover with the focus on the 9 City Bridge Run, and additionally I felt there was still more I could do with what I had learnt from that experience on the issue of depression and suicide.
I am also drawn to a big idea which Clay Shirky who is a favourite thinker and author of mine expressed called ‘cognitive surplus’. You can see a video from Clay Shirky on the home page to the 10 City Bridge Run site where he talks about collaboration and the role of institutions. Cognitive surplus argues that as a collective community, we have a capacity of social capital and intellectual rigour that could be applied to worthy projects rather than just watching TV. I believe that the issue of cognitive surplus is at the root of addressing this issue of child survival, and I also believe it is key to addressing mental health and a sense of purpose among veterans after they transition from the military. Additionally, I believe there is unexplored potential to examine the benefits that the veteran community might bring to issues that tackle extreme poverty, such as child survival. These are hunches and need to be teased out more.
Not that I need a watertight reason for every single decision I make in my personal life, but consequently I decided to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting The Mission Continues.
The marathon gives me a very real deadline, and also the challenge of how am I going to make that work. (To date, I still have had no luck with the magic carpet, and will need to work out how to afford this travel yet). It provides a good framing timeline around which to orient the publication of the book Beyond The Backswing, as well as to announce how the Design Forum will unfold. In short, I see these things occurring on 24 October in Seoul marking UN Day. If you want more clarity, please leave a comment and I can answer your questions.
While I was in New York in July this year, I was hoping to have completed the manuscript for the book Beyond The Backswing. It took longer than I anticipated, and resulted in me heading out to Newark where I had spent a fair amount of time about 10 years ago while I was hanging out with some friends who were working in that city. I figured it would be cheaper to stay in Newark than New York, and might also be a place with less distractions.
Unexpectedly, I befriended a number of locals who sewed an idea for how the book Life Bridge might be curated. I am still giving this some thought, but I believe it will work, and is also timely following the conclusion of the Marine Corps Marathon.
As a consequence, I hope to achieve my objectives for the 10 City Bridge Run and also bring some important discussion to this troubling issue of veterans health. This blog post is only an overview rather than a detailed plan, but if you would like to know more, please leave a comment.
I value your feedback, and hope you might leave a comment to say what you thought about this update as well as the proposed journey ahead. Of course, if you want to know how to get more involved, I would also like to hear from you.