Dave Grossman puts humans into three categories: Ninety-eight percent are “sheep,” content to graze and likely to stampede when they’re threatened. One percent are “wolves,” psychopaths with a propensity for violence who lack empathy. The other 1 percent: “sheepdogs,” who have both empathy and a propensity for violence.
The sheepdogs are also called warriors, he said. They’re not always liked or appreciated by the sheep, but they come to the herd’s rescue when wolves threaten.
Grossman seemed to captivate the crowd Tuesday at a Pentagon-sponsored conference on warrior resiliency. Most in attendance wore camouflage military uniforms, but the two-day meeting includes civilian therapists and health care providers, as well as personnel from Veterans Affairs.
The program continues today with a video address from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and concludes with a panel of “real warriors” talking about combat experiences.
Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former professor of psychology at West Point, acknowledges the reality of combat stress and psychological trauma. World War II’s “greatest generation” included 500,000 soldiers who were psychiatric casualties, he noted.
Still, he said, the vast majority of troops return from war stronger for their experience. Too many people believe what he called a Hollywood myth that portrays combat veterans as victims, forever scarred by their service. That myth creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that produces victims and destroys lives, he said.
Grossman is no John Wayne, however. In fact, he used the legendary Hollywood tough guy as an example of another potent myth.
“John Wayne was an actor,” he told the packed ballroom at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, letting the message sink in.
He urged the audience to avoid both ends of the spectrum.
“No pity party, no macho man,” he said over and over.
A much-needed perspective. When I did my story on the overextension of the PTSD diagnosis in vets (and elsewhere), I found Grossman’s take on the psychic toll of killing (and almost being killed) among the most compelling. His “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” is a unique and uniquely valuable contribution.