Community and Respect
Applying this point more broadly to groups other than the military, I would say that meaningful participation in a community is not a matter of symbolic representations of group status such as a uniform or document issued to signify a person's membership in the group. Rather, a community and its culture arise from the many ways in which its people work together, communicate about their shared interests and mutual concerns, and show understanding and good will toward one another. When we pay more attention to symbols than we do to the community that they are supposed to represent, we risk losing the true respect and understanding that should be at the center of the community.
This is particularly the case when the identifying symbols are issued by others who are not part of the community, as Mark Stairwalt discusses in a recent article that draws the distinction vividly by means of a retold story involving tribal identification cards issued by the federal government. I won't quote any of that story here because I don't want to spoil it for readers, but I'll say that it has a powerful impact and that it is well worth following the link. The article goes on to make an analogy to the autistic community and the idea that having official diagnostic papers is what makes a person autistic:
…only some of us are “registered Indians.” Rather than a BIA identification card, some autistic bloggers have been reduced to posting a scan of their autism diagnosis, a “note from the doctor” in order to prove that they know whereof they speak. Others are derided and discredited for speaking about autism from the perspective of self-diagnosis. Most of the demand for this sort of “certification” may come from those who do not identify as autistic (at least not openly), but insofar as any of us take such demands seriously, we remain a house divided, by our own hands.
Labels: autistic community