While I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson before separating from the military, there are times when no matter how early you learn a lesson, habits are difficult to break. In many cases, no matter how hard you try, they never fully go away. Military jargon and sarcasm might as well be considered its own language. Like any language, if you spend a long enough amount of time learning to speak it and living in an environment where that is the primary language spoken, unlearning it is next to impossible. No matter how hard you try, it will always be there. This lesson almost doesn’t seem important enough to warrant its own section and in the case of most languages, I would have to agree. Military jargon, sarcasm, and sense of humor are an exception to this sentiment. I am not going to go over specifics, but a general explanation is in order.
As I have said before, the military environment is not for the thin skinned or faint of heart. If you have a sensitivity to dark humor and are unable to live in an environment of frequent hardship or despair, I highly advise you select another profession or occupation. To deal with the realities of a military lifestyle, you have to develop the type of mindset that can survive in the constantly evolving, high stress, happiness deficient, and sometimes hope shattering environment. Things rarely, if ever, go the way you want them too, and even when they do, there is some bureaucracy that exists somewhere that will find its way to you to make your life difficult. With the frequent exposure to disappointment and occasional horrors, it is essential that you develop the kind of attitude that can adapt and overcome these situations. Enter gallows humor.
Have you ever heard this phrase? Long story short, it is laughing in the face of horrors, dangers, desperate situations, etc. It is making inappropriate jokes, at clearly inappropriate times, about obviously inappropriate things, to maintain some form of contact with your sanity. It is easy to view someone in possession of gallows humor with the impression that they are likely absent of reason or completely insane. While you are not entirely wrong, you are not quite correct either. I am not saying that civilians do not have the ability to possess gallows humor, however, it is not considered as essential in most civilian work cultures as it is in the military or some of the other emergency services. I cannot explain how many times I have made a joke or said something that my brothers and sisters in uniform would have laughed at and ended up the recipient of an audience filled with horrified or dissatisfied stares.
Know your audience, but more importantly, know your environment. Situational awareness aside, it is sometimes difficult for a service member to factor in that most people will not share the same sense of what is funny or appropriate. Much like when anyone of any culture travels to another country, unless you are fluent in the language of the place you are visiting, it is difficult to prevent the slippage of your most fluent and common tongue. You don’t just unlearn previous languages. Welcome or not, every culture you participate in becomes a vital part of who and what you are, and it is important that you surround yourself with people who can understand that. It is also important that you do your best to think before you speak and exercise restraint. Just because you think people should accept you for who and what you are, doesn’t mean they have to or will.