We strive through combat only to return to a nation that seemingly only desires to appear to understand us. We set ourselves to thrive, to conquer, to dominate whatever landscape is before us, whether it is in business, academics, or the never-ending pull of adrenaline. Often, we go at it alone, with other people standing on the sidelines. Their cheers may be too half-hearted, or their criticisms too cutting, but either way they are ignored. We’ve found our worth in the struggle and the embrace of strife.

Yet finding our worth apart from our time in the service has been such a dangerous, and often unfulfilling endeavor. Why? I imagine it’s partly because the idea of “finding one’s worth” has something in common with the word, “fuck.” It’s all about context.

Why was our worth, our mission, so easy to define while carrying a black rifle in a foreign land? Because we had the context of our brothers next to us, those Jolly Green Giants (with guns) who could instantly tell us when we were fucking up, or when we did something right. In contrast, the ones who went off on their own were the ones who could not find their way in a mission.

There is a lie common to our community that, on the outside at least, has the appearance of strength..it prevails in our narrative largely due to the already existing feeling of being apart from regular society:

“Fuck what everyone thinks!”

“Never change yourself for anyone!”

“Ignore what everyone else says about you!”

“Never give a rat’s ass about what others think of you!”

“Do your own thing, regardless of the consequences!”

“Anyone who disagrees with you is a hater!”

This ideal of complete self-sufficiency is completely counter to the adage that makes our community what it is:

“We Stand Alone Together.”

Imagine a man who truly disregards what everyone thinks about him. Picture someone who only pursues his own desires and goals and ignores what those around him say. At the beginning, he may seem strong and independent. Such traits are, after all, qualities that have build our great nation. Why should he not be revered for his blatant disregard of all outside opinions?

What if there are people around him who love him, who want the best for him? Should he ignore them? What if there are people who depend on him for emotional and financial stability? Should he tell them to go fuck themselves? What if his actions aggressively harm those around him, his family, his friends, his brothers-in-arms? Well of course none of that matters when he is following his heart and his passions, right?

Such a man only has worth in his own mind. The modern ideal of ignoring the opinion of the rest of the world assumes that that man will never need anyone and will never be needed by anyone. Such a man is a true island, and that should be an abomination to those of us who have lived and died by the term, “Team.”

Such a man is truly alone.

To hold onto the ideas that no one else’s opinions matter is to announce to the world that no one is worthy of my company. It is narcissistic to the core to hold that any different opinion from mine ought to be dismissed as coming from “haters,” even if those people are my own friends and family who love me deeply. It is to completely give up on finding people who are worth being around, who know me well enough to sharpen my will and strengthen my cause. It is to abandon the popular, but vague concept of tribe. It is a completely lazy way of living.

Stand back, world! I can do this all by my lonesome! I need no help from any man! Vows I have made and brotherhoods I have entered shall be damned in my eternal quest to silence all “haters!”

How does one find worth? It seems that it can only be found in the context of the group, the squad, the team, the family, the gang. How does it start? Finding such a worthy group is much the same as finding a good mate: you first must make yourself into a worthy man or woman, and then seek out those who are worthy of a decent investment. Believe me, you can’t be a part of a good group if you’re a self-seeking piece of shit, just like you can’t blame anyone but yourself if you’re a garbage man-child only capable of attracting crazy, worthless women.

Ask yourself if you’re even worth being around as is. If your answer is, “Yes,” then you really need to look deeper. Find ways to improve yourself, and in doing so, you will attract the kind of people who will make you worthier.

They will give you that necessary context, and that is much more effective than shutting out every opinion that runs counter to your own personal echo chamber.

Cokie has been in various military branches and contracting companies. He loves "Yo Momma" jokes, and is often intrigued by the complexities of the social hierarchy of Smurfs. He hates the movie Pocahontas, and with good reason. Don't get him started. He can be found in tree stands across the Midwest, wishing he was good at deer hunting. He is author of the book Where They Meet: Songs of War and Poems of Life. His work can be found at www.cokieactual.com and on Instagram @cokie_actual.