Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Uniformed Betrayal

I grew up trusting uniforms, largely because in Catholicism, our family's religion, clergy wear uniforms--or at least that is how religious garb was explained to me in a way that made sense.  I was taught clergy were there to help us improve and live our lives the best we could.  That idea of uniforms extended to Catholic school, a place where clothing would not yield competition because everyone wore the same thing (mostly).

Then there were police officers.  Police were the people you went to when you were in trouble, you were scared or you were lost.  When you're a child, people tell you if you are lost and see a police officer, tell the officer you are lost.  When we hear a gun shot, neighbors beating each other up or a prowler, we are taught to call the police. 

Then there's the military.  We learn (or at least I did) that soldiers suffer and die for our country, that they are brave, that they do what they must even if the public disapproves of the conflict.

These men and women represent honor, and their uniforms are symbols of that honorable life they have chosen.

So what happens when we lose trust in those who are supposed to protect and guide us?

In families, when children are abused, they live in fear, hiding from the people who are supposed to care from them.  They distrust most everyone, especially grown ups who wear their own sort of uniforms--suits, ties, adult clothing and expressions.  The adults come in all forms--as teachers, doctors, fire fighters.  Children have difficulty getting over the sort of betrayal that happens when someone in power misuses that power.

The experience is no different when the public or an individual has a seriously negative experience with those in authority, especially those wearing an obvious uniform.  That has happened to me with a few institutions, not necessarily named here. I will neither name those institutions nor go into details because first, the past is the past, second, because the people involved were truly screwed up and I have forgiven them, and third, I was truly screwed up (though not quite so badly). When you put an emotionally screwed person in the same vicinity as a manipulative or violent screwed up person, the ending will probably be bad, tragic and/or traumatic.

My experiences left me feeling betrayed on so many levels, I didn't know where to start the healing process (other than the obvious therapist's office which can only help so much).  So I  knew I had to face my demons--the groups that were represented by these individuals.  I wanted to know that not everyone who belonged to these groups was warped.  I wanted them to prove it.  And of course, they did prove it.  The majority of the people I met were indeed honorable. I just had the misfortune of running into the exceptions who happened to be breaking the rules of the organizations.  I came out of the experience understanding and respecting these people who lived up to the ideals their uniforms represented.

This is all terribly ironic because I am someone who has historically disliked group behavior.  I never really trusted it, nor did I really seek to participate. But the overwhelming indoctrination to trust a uniform left me vulnerable.  Even if I were healthy at the time of these encounters, my naivete would have left me open to the intentions of these institutional anomalies. 

I am still learning to spot and heed red flags and to balance my distrust with my trust.  I am trying to ignore my inherent rebellion, my personality inconsistencies and my often bad attitude.  I have been focusing on becoming healthier and wiser.  It's a slow process.

In the meantime, I hope, through my experience, others will learn that a uniform does not necessarily equal goodness.  But more importantly, I hope those in uniform understand how much people like me need to be able to trust them. 
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