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Thursday
Sep252008

Reading: A powerful way to understand the "Other"

This is a portion of a column I wrote for the Vacaville Reporter last week. It is personal, and not about marketing per se. However if the first step of marketing is to know our customers, reading can help us understand them in a way that is more powerful than a powerpoint full of statistics.

Our children don’t belong to us. All parents eventually learn this, in increments or in a bolt of insight. Our children's lives are their own. We feed them, teach them, willingly sacrifice for them, but in the end, we don’t get to choose their destiny.

When you are the mother of a son, at some point you realize he is a man, and it can be a bit of a shock. A man! The mysterious “Other” that women spend their whole lives trying to understand. When you hug him he feels like granite, when you laugh he lifts you in his arms, and when you argue, you know he is controlling himself, because he is strong enough to break something.

When my son told me he wanted to be a soldier, I didn’t pay much attention. I assumed he would eventually major in something impractical but safe, like philosophy. I knew nothing about the military and could not imagine a reason anyone would choose it. Then the day came when my son said to me, “I have wanted this for four years. I am not going to change my mind.”

That’s when I started reading. First because I couldn’t resist the title, “Love My Rifle More Than You,” Kayla Williams' story of being a woman soldier in Iraq. The next book was one my son recommended, “One Bullet Away” by Nathaniel Fick, a Dartmouth classics scholar turned Marine lieutenant, who led one of the first units to enter Iraq. “Generation Kill,” which was made into an HBO series is also about Fick’s unit but is told from the perspective of Rolling Stone reporter, Evan Wright. These books do not sugarcoat the confusion, waste and senselessness of combat but reading them with my son gave me an inkling of what concepts like “honor” and “warrior” mean to a man like him.

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