Bridging the Divide

Bridging the Divide | Whole Spouse

I’ve been feeling reflective lately about the state our country these days.  It seems like the only thing we can all agree on is that we are hopelessly divided.  And it feels like it’s only getting worse.  The more divided we feel, the more we stick to people like ourselves who will reassure us that we are normal and justified in our beliefs.  After all, it’s only human nature to avoid conflict.  Who enjoys getting their feelings hurt or being a part of those snarky conversations on Facebook?  Okay, maybe some people thrive on that kind of stuff, but most of us just want to get along and feel connected to other people.

While I am definitely not here to lecture anyone on politics, I believe that we as career-oriented military spouses can do some real good in this political environment.  As military spouses, we can help bridge the divide in our country because we are uniquely positioned to understand people and perspectives from so many walks of life.  We hear this all the time.  We live all around the world and get to know so many different kinds of people.  It’s a badge of honor that military spouses can and do connect with each other regardless of background or politics, and we are better for it.

But that’s not all.  Those of us who pursue careers outside the home have the potential to take this lesson a step further and teach civilians what it means to come together.  By getting outside our “military bubble” and interacting with other civilians, we can share what it’s like to be on this side of things.  Very often we may try to keep our military spouse identity hidden in the workplace, but in doing so we may be wasting an opportunity to bridge that gap in some small way.  We are unlike most Americans precisely because we are constantly being exposed to new people and different perspectives.  At the same time, the civilian world seems to be getting increasingly polarized, to the point where we cannot even agree on what real news is anymore.

One way we can help bridge this divide is by simply being visible in the workplace as military spouses.  By working in a professional capacity we defy the stereotypes on both the right and the left about the military community.  I interviewed one spouse named Grace awhile back who told me a story that really resonated with me.  Grace told me that one of her office colleagues was shocked when he found out she was a military spouse, believing that military spouses don’t work.  Although she was surprised by his reaction, Grace says, “I kind of felt proud because I’m not what outsiders think of as a military spouse.  You know, some lady who stays at home and is fat and wears an ‘I Love the Navy’ t-shirt.”

Grace and her office colleague might never have crossed paths in ordinary life, and he may never have given her the time of day if she was just another woman in an “I Love the Navy” t-shirt.  But because of their shared work, Grace changed his assumptions about military spouses, and perhaps opened his mind to other new perspectives as well.  I know one small interaction like this isn’t going to change the world or our political climate, but I do believe that being brave enough to share who you really are is the first step towards breaking down false assumptions and bridging the gaps that often divide us.


Changing Military Culture One Conversation at a Time

Changing Military Culture One Conversation at a Time | Whole Spouse

Did you know the majority of military spouses are active in the labor force, either currently working or seeking employment? Although it’s a fact that most of us have a career of some kind, the military culture often still clings to the stereotype of a working military member and stay-at-home spouse. Sometimes, as spouses we even perpetuate this myth by avoiding our own careers as topics of conversation. As a result, we continue to preserve a culture that doesn’t accurately reflect reality, and leads many of us to feel isolated and unsupported.

I’ll give you an example from my research with Air Force spouses. Roberta is a midwife by background, and was a newlywed to her military husband when I interviewed her. As a newcomer to the military community, she was eager to make friends and meet other spouses, so she joined the local spouses club. But she found herself bewildered by the experience. She wondered why other spouses often asked about her husband’s job, but never her own. She came away thinking that either she was the only one with a career, or that having a career was somehow unacceptable. Why else would it not be mentioned in ordinary conversation? My answer was, “It’s not part of our culture.” Although it may seem like a minor oversight, this interaction took an emotional toll on her.

She says, “I just felt sad. It just felt like I wasn’t important, like I just didn’t matter.”

Roberta’s story is a great example of the power of conversation. The words we exchange with other people shape how we see ourselves, other people, and the communities we engage in. I’m a big believer in the idea that change only happens when we begin to talk differently about something. In effect we change organizations and culture by talking a new norm into existence. The things we say or choose not to say craft our reality and send a signal to others about what we value, what is unimportant, and what is taboo.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in Roberta’s shoes?

My solution is to turn the tables and ask the other person the very questions I wish they would ask me. “What do you like to do with your time? Tell me more about yourself.” Not only is it a great gift to take interest in someone and see them for who they are, but it also creates a culture of inclusion, one conversation at a time.