Our Air Force and world around us is more tolerant and open to different lifestyles and embracing diversity like never before. This is a good thing for the most part as we are all Americans and all deserve equal opportunities. Where it is bad is in our ability to be vulnerable or even curious as human beings.
There are more and more policies dropping down onto the services since the lifting of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011. Gay marriage is accepted in the military and legal throughout most of the country and now we have new policies on transgender personnel. This creates lots of questions for those not used to being around those who embrace these lifestyles. Not to mention there are rising racial tensions as of late due to the shootings of police officers and those they have shot. All of this is tragic; however, it is terrible that we can’t have conversations with our leaders without it being too taboo. There are clearly misunderstandings in what others think and believe.
“It is the utmost importance to treat others with dignity and respect” is the most you will get out of most leaders when we ask honest questions of how to deal with some of these issues. Although, I do understand how difficult it is to control the message when you are in a mass setting and in this world of social media, a poorly chosen word can now go viral. However, this is no excuse to not open a dialogue with our teams if they have legitimate questions. If you are not comfortable talking in mass, I highly encourage small group discussions.
I remember someone I worked with as a new Airman who had never met a black person until he came into the military. Where he was from, was a very rural area and his school was all white. He was not a racist or bigot in any way, he simply did not understand how us “city folk” were different, let alone those from different cultures. He was constantly asking questions about how we grew up and our Hispanic and black friends about all the stereotypes and things he has heard. Thankfully, we had some pretty cool friends who were open and honest.
I remember working on the flightline with him and listening to these conversations and thinking he was going to get his butt kicked or have his own parking spot at EO. He was genuinely curious and his most of his questions were ridiculous; however, they were innocent and honest. People were very open to these discussions and almost excited to know someone wanted to learn more about them and dispel some of the stereotypes. We actually had a lot of fun and broke down a lot of the barriers we would have typically tiptoed around.
To be completely honest, there are lots of people who are still clueless about other cultures, religions, the LGBT lifestyle and tiptoe around any potential conversations to gain understanding. It is even more confusing with the new transgender policies. I do not have a problem with those with different beliefs than me and have noticed that everyone contributes to our Air Force mission no matter what their background or beliefs are. This has always been my view and all of the recent changes haven’t affected our mission at all. However, with all the rising tensions and issues in the world, I think a lot of it is because we are too timid to ask questions that may be looked at as taboo.
I encourage taboo questions and conversations, but take my cues from my Airman days and think they should happen in small group settings where you can be sure everyone leaves the table on the same page. In fact, I think people need to do this much more in our society. Once we understand how each person thinks and feels, we can move forward as a nation.