Tuesday, February 1, 2011

PTSD Tribes Needed

I just finished Tribes by Seth Godin. Scott Greenfield once wrote a post or two referencing Godin and somehow the name stuck, prompting me to pick it up in the library. The book’s timing was perfect as I’m pondering how best to craft marketing strategy, how to be a better leader, and whether the best way to do this is to take Godin’s advice and become a heretic.
Godin describes a tribe as a group aligned around an idea, connected to a leader and to each other, going on to describe how creating a tribe is easier than ever, thanks to the internet and social media which make connecting simple and instantaneous. He goes on to describe tribe leaders as heretics who “must believe.. [who are] challenging the status quo... daring to be great... [who are] not just punching a clock [and] who must have confidence in [their] beliefs.”

According to Godin, size doesn’t matter, at least not at first. I described to my daughter, who wants to be an artist, Godin’s description of a successful artist building a career upon a few hundred true fans. He doesn’t pretend that a few hundred fans will make you rich or even pay your bills, but points out that a few hundred true fans will spread your message and attract enough fans to create a movement.

I saw an example of this kind of “movement” today in the Omaha World Herald and was surprised how quickly this once small group reached the headlines. The group is called “At Ease” and their aim is to help soldiers with PTSD reenter society. Here is how I came to know them:

Last June: I stop in Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy a kayak.
The “kid” (he’s about 22) and I get along well and he talks about how he, like me, likes to go to Zorinsky Lake in Omaha and how he’d like to start kayaking in local rivers if he could ever find the time. We talk about the College World Series, how he found tickets and went with his friends the day before. I tell him that I took my daughters to couple games, how they have great memories of Rosenblatt and how we couldn’t miss the last year there.

Last July: I am in court and see the “kid” who sold me the kayak pleading to a second offense DUI. I hear his lawyer tell the judge how he came home from Iraq with PTSD and hear the judge sentence him to probation, telling him he has to get down to the root of his problems or end up in jail.

The next day: I tell my wife how badly I feel for the kid, how hard it must be to be in Iraq one day and back in Omaha the next with people expecting you to settle right in, despite what you may have seen or been asked to do. She tells me about a program one of her friends’ husbands has started that aims to help soldiers coming home from Iraq with PTSD. When I google the name, “At Ease,” I have to dig for information, but eventually find a few web pages about how Scott Anderson uses space at a church in Bellevue, NE. I can’t let this “kid” go it alone (and don’t have any confidence that his own lawyer will go the extra mile for him) so I stop in at Dick’s and deliver the information, along with Scott’s phone number.

A couple months later: I am appointed to a case and my client describes coming home from Iraq and struggling with PTSD. I don’t know if he ever uses it, but I find the information about “At Ease” and tell him that he’s not alone, that someone locally has started a group for people like him who are, understandably, having trouble settling back into America after being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Last week: I am walking through the courthouse and strike up a conversation with a guy who tells me about his service in the Marine Corps. We end up walking out along the same path and he goes on to tell me how lucky he is, how he doesn’t feel he deserves the veteran benefits he receives. I’m shocked later at his lack of a sense of entitlement as he tells me how his combat experience in Iraq left him with on-going PTSD. When I ask him if he’s ever heard of At Ease he pauses and says, “I couldn’t live without it.” I think to myself how great it is that people like him can join this tribe and hopefully get some relief from PTSD.

Today: I pick up the Omaha World Herald and read that former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey spoke out in support of At Ease:

Kerrey argued Monday that non-profit programs such as At Ease — a 16-month-old effort to provide PTSD treatment to Omaha-area veterans and their families — have the best chance to bring struggling service members back into civilian society.
“This is a situation where we have to solve it, we have to provide help,” Kerrey said of post-traumatic stress disorder before his speech. “It's working.”

Godin’s message is that if you lead well, you will attract the type of people who commit to your vision and spread the word, leading to something that both works and spreads.

Maybe what made me want to help people with PTSD was a sign I wrote about a few years ago, posted by soldiers in Iraq. It said “America isn’t at War. America is at the Mall.”

But maybe that kid you see at the mall was just in Iraq and is having trouble adjusting to the distance between these two worlds. Thankfully people like Scott Anderson, the founder of At Ease, (who took great pains to not take personal credit for its success) are stepping up to help them bridge this gap.

Can you help him spread the word or do whatever you can, even if it takes just a moment, to help someone coming home from wars we seem to have forgotten?

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