Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

By Edward-Yemil Rosario


Sometimes we’re fighting wars that ended a long time ago, based on scripts that in some cases were written long before we were born…

What happens to a dream deferred?

During the height of the Japanese occupation of the Pacific during WW II, there were tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers scattered over literally thousands of tiny islands. As the tide of war shifted, many of these island strongholds were defeated or overrun, but some were entirely missed. On some islands, small groups of soldiers or isolated survivors hid in caves in dense inaccessible jungle areas. Eventually, the war would come to an end. But since these survivors had no way of knowing, they continued living as if the war was still being fought, maintaining military protocol, totally isolated, yearning for the day when they would be reunited with their command.

In the years immediately following the war, many of these soldiers were found by natives, or discovered when they shot at fishing boats. As the years passed, these discoveries became less frequent, the last having been found thirty years after the war had ended.

Try to put yourself in such a soldier’s position. His government had called on him to protect his country from an external threat, trained him, and sent him to a jungle island to protect his people. And as a loyal citizen he served this call and survived many battles through the hard years of war. When the war ended, he kept honoring this call, fighting a war that he didn’t know ended, surviving against great odds. Despite the heat, the insects, and the rains, he carried on, still loyal to the orders given to him by his government.

It would be easy to laugh at such a soldier and consider him stupid for continuing to fight a war that had been over for years. How should such a soldier be treated?

Whenever one of these soldiers was located, the first contact was always made by someone who had been a high-ranking officer. He would dust off his old uniform and samurai sword and take a military boat to the area where the soldier had been sighted. The officer would walk through the jungle, calling out for the soldier until he was found. When the soldier was found, the officer would thank the soldier, with tears in his eyes, for his loyalty, for continuing to defend his country. Only after some time would the soldier gently be told the war was over and that his country was again at peace, so he would not have to fight anymore. When he reached home, he would be given a hero’s welcome, with parades and medals, and crowds thanking him and celebrating his sacrifices.

Many of us would view these lost soldiers as weird and even crazy, fighting a war that had long been over. Yet who can deny their intention was positive – to protect and serve their country? Although they were doing the best they could with what they knew, and however useful their behavior may have once been, the war was over and it no longer served a purpose.

Laugh you might, but there are times we are all like those lost soldiers. We all have feelings or behaviors that once may have served a useful purpose at some time, and we continue even when they are no longer useful to us.
Some of us find ourselves still fighting battles with their parents long after they have died. We may find ourselves reacting in the workplace with behaviors developed to deal with an older brother, or the school bully. People who have been hurt sometimes learn to mistrust others so well that they have great difficulty trusting others who love them deeply. Some of us have been hurt so deeply that even saying the words, “I love you,” is a near impossibility.

All of us do things we sometimes consider stupid or limiting — things that get in our way. Sometimes we feel inadequate and angry when we think that’s a dumb thing to feel. How many of us also occasionally see our friends and relatives doing stupid, harmful, weird things. I think we tend to see it better in others than in ourselves. “Pfffft! They should know better,”we scoff.

We are the lost soldiers. Welcome to a war that has been over for a long time, my friends.

We usually respond to these behaviors by trying to get rid of them, criticizing ourselves mercilessly in the process:

“You ought to be able to stop smoking!”
“You should be able to lose weight!”
“You’re so stupid for not feeling more self-confident.”
“I get so pissed at getting these migraines!”

All we know is that these responses get in our way; that they serve no useful purpose, and only serve as obstacles.

However, like the lost soldiers, all our behaviors at one time served a useful purpose. Cognitive linguists talk about “frames,” the mental structures we build in order to make sense of reality. These frames are very important to us and sometimes they’re not even based on evidence but values. I can talk till I’m blue in the face, showing you that what you view as a table really isn’t a table, but if you developed a certain “frame” for a table, you will dismiss the evidence and keep the “frame.”

For me, the key to effective change is to use reframing techniques. Maybe we can think of a frame as part of a map. We create maps early in our lives so that we can navigate the territory. But what happens when the territory has changed and our maps have lost their relevance? What happens mostly is that people keep the maps and mistake the map for the territory.

I see it all the time.

The most important part of this reframing method is making the following assumption: that every behavior or feeling you have, no matter how bizarre or stupid it seems, has some useful and important, positive function or intention. It may seem ridiculous but it’s a powerful assumption that makes inner healing possible. It helps us turn problems and limitations into assets and allies.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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5 thoughts on “The Lost Soldiers”
  1. Along with reasoning and logic, one of the earmarks of advanced intelligence, is supposed to be the ability to problem solve. Whether through conditioning, or some sort of need to continue having parental figures to sort things out long after we’ve reached maturity ourselves, problem solving has been shifted into the hands of authorities whose main solution is the enactment of more laws. We see this in personal laws aimed at what we do to our bodies, our sexual orientations and our life style choices. It has reached the point where you can’t put a shed on your own property without clearing it first with city planners. Family disputes are settled in court instead of in counsel.

    What this does is undermine our confidence in solving our own problems. It also causes us not to exercise that particular part of the brain that wades through the pros and cons of reasoning to reach logical conclusions. Example in point: a few years ago, a young hiker lost her dog on a wilderness trail when it ran a couple of miles ahead of her and was eaten by a wolf. Logical solution: keep your pet on a leash or train it to be close to your side. The solution enacted by authorities; kill all the wolves who lurk close to the hiking trails. I suppose they’ll be going after porcupines next as an entanglement between pet and porcupine can be very lethal for the pet.

    Independent problem solving has become at the same time, more difficult to achieve lawfully and more necessary than ever before because the authorities we depend on to solve our problems don’t really care unless our problems will provide a lucrative income for themselves.

  2. @ Karlsie,

    You make a good point regarding the absurdity of society’s overreaction to problems people encounter with the dog vs. wolf story. However, there are alternative solutions to the problem at hand: one could go on the hiking trail with a weapon to deter wolves with (a .357 mag would be ideal for his) or own a powerful breed of dog that could hold its own in a fight with a wolf if it needed to (pitbulls come to mind).

    What I’m saying here is that there are a myriad of different ways to solve most problems – and many are just as rational as the next one. It’s really just a matter of picking one that suits your own style.

  3. Some of the ways we problem solve are not based on rational decision-making. In fact, from a neuro-biological perspective, we’re feeling creatures that think, NOT thinking creatures that feel. If we didn’t feel we wouldn’t be able to make decisions. We would’ve become extinct as our “rational” selves computed the infinite solutions to avoid being eaten by a predator.

    The point here is that not all solutions are equal and are, in fact, based on scripts that were written generations ago. some people are fighting wars with same mentality that didn’t even work thousands of years ago.

  4. Well now, i suppose not all solutions are the same, as Azazel so successfully pointed out. It would never occur to me to shoot a wolf along a hiking trail as wolves rarely present any sort of danger to humans. I grew up knowing wolves will kill dogs, therefore the practical solution was to train my dogs to stay close by while i’m hiking.

    My big complaint has always been over-reactive societal problem solving. The tendency is to provide across the board simple solutions, enacted into law, that generally only treat the symptoms without actually addressing the problem. Dog-killing wolves are not the problem. That’s what wolves do. The problem was the expectancy of the hiker that the wilderness trail would be as safe as a romp through Disney Land. As i mentioned, even without the wolf, there are other dangers to a free-roaming dog, including porcupines; which i mentioned; moose and bears. The more practical solution would have been for the hiker to have learned, prepared for and accepted the dangers awaiting a free roaming dog in the wilderness.

    Eddie, i think it’s only because we “feel” that we haven’t exterminated everything in sight a long time ago as part of our rational processes. Humankind’s incredible inventiveness were derived from its problem solving abilities. Man discovered that his capacity for lifting weight doubled if he used a lever instead of his hands, and that, lacking the prominent teeth and nails of a predator, he could balance out the disadvantage with sharp sticks. If we did not have the capacity for feelings that carry us beyond the range of very clever animals able to invent to keep us at the top of the pyramid, our problems really wouldn’t be so complicated. It is because we have feelings that gross wars came to an end with a truce, great works of art have been created, that we seek fair and equitable judgment, and that people become unhappy when they perceive tyranny.

    Our feelings don’t necessarily separate us from other animals, but they do an a determining factor into our logical, reasoning abilities. We separate our feelings into negative and positive qualities; anger versus patience, ruthlessness versus kindness, modesty versus greed; and we sort them in our minds by our own rationalizing order of importance.

    The mentalities that didn’t work thousands of years ago will once again meet in conflict with the mentality that determines history shall go in a kinder, more benevolent direction. We are at a crossroads of extremes; the bleeding heart syndrome that can’t bear the thought of a world so ruthless, the wilderness kills their pets; and the crass greed of those who see their fellow humans only as profit making numbers. In between, we find the majority sliding up and down the scale, trying to sort out their feelings and questioning their own problem solving abilities. When seeking counsel, we are often even told how to feel, further minimizing our abilities to solve our own problems.

  5. I think we’re saying thing: feelings, or emotions, factor into our everyday and larger, societal decision-making process. My other point is that as a culture we tend to diminish feelings being less valuable than reason. I say we can’t have one without the other and becoming more empathic, more “emotionally intelligent,” is the key to living more in balance with each other, our environment and with the world, generally speaking. This takes a shift and demands that we look at the old wars we continue to wage, both internally and externally.

    As I read it, I saw Azazel’s point being that shooting wolves 9with a 357 magnum) would be an effective deterrent. I say that’s a problem-solving strategy borne out of the lover hierarchies of moral reasoning. another, more panoramic, approach might involve understanding WHY we’re coming to conflict with ‘wolves.” Are we overdeveloping the land? Are there better ways to live in harmoney with nature? are questions I would like factored in any policy regarding your example of wolves.

    I disagree that there’s evidence that government ONLY leads to bad policies or policies that don’t address the issues. sure, it can happen, but i see unfettered development, dismissive of longer term consequences as the culprit. when greed and profit are running government policies, then yes, they will lead to destruction and inequality. but that’s not the function of government per se, it’s a function of a warping of what government can and should be.

    When intelligent people are placed to head conservation policies, good things do happen. what happens, unfortunately, is that government agencies are set up for failure, or are headed by the very people who are hostile to higher forms of moral reasoning.

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