You need to know Jim Spiri. Jim is a combat photographer but he is not a member of the media elite. The elite offer us sympathy to sell ad space. Jim offers us empathy to soothe the soul. The difference is more than faint. Read on.
The old adage goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s a great parallelism that illuminates two things: 1) A picture can tell the content of a story faster and more complete sometimes than a thousand words crafted by even a gifted writer, and 2) A picture can evoke an emotion (affect) that a writer may have to write a thousand words to evoke (and may still not fully capture).
I find this angle to picture taking interesting since the parallelism is drawing on two components of communication — content and affect. In my past-life I had to study many models of human behavior and relationships. When you study to be a therapist (or really even study to decide if you will become a therapist) you have to learn many angles of effective communication. My favorite model for therapeutic communication has been the Empathy Scale model by Carkuff and Truax. This model is complimentary to and part of the neo-Freudian movement and transanalytical therapeutic models.
Now, before you go ‘huh?’ and decide to not read any further, let me explain. This is going somewhere — it’s leading us to combat footage, trust me.
The Empathy Scale is based on the fact that little can ever be achieved in analytical therapy without a trusting relationship between client and therapist, and without the therapist knowing how to listen and knowing how to offer feedback that is empathetic. People get enough sympathy in this world. Everyone feels sorry for someone at one point or another. Sympathy is often expressed as a form of pity. It is sometimes necessary to feel, but it is not sufficient to truly comfort a burdened heart.
While sympathy is sometimes necessary, any therapist worth her weight in salt will tell you that people don’t want someone to feel something “for” them. What we all crave and want is empathy. Empathy provides our human souls a richer and more personal connection with others. You can have sympathy for someone and never really understand (or try to for that matter) what they are really feeling or going through. When you have empathy for another person you understand both the content of what they are telling you, and you feel on a personal level the emotion they are communicating. You do not feel for the person, but rather you feel with the person. You don’t walk a mile in their shoes, but rather you walk a mile hand in hand with them. When you have experienced empathy you know immediately the difference between that and when someone feels sympathy for you. The two are very distinguishable.
Even though professionally I went on to do non-profit administration and social research, I had to spend some time in the therapeutic trenches. It is the nature of the social work profession for its members to experience direct client work for at least a season.
One of the most beautiful moments as a therapist is when you have a client who has shared a very painful and lonely experience, and at some point through the course of therapy you (the therapist) finally understand what she is feeling. When you communicate your insight to her you see her face light up like you’ve never seen before. Suddenly she knows she is no longer alone on her journey. This is often when healing begins.
Empathy is hard for the giver. It forces you to let your guard down, and it forces you to embrace a level of vulnerability. As humans we naturally brace against such feelings — not embrace them. It is not easy walking toward a black storm of pain, and voluntarily walking right in and experiencing the storm with another. It does take a form of courage.
I have prefaced the following with all of that so that I could make a point about the work of Jim Spiri. His work is a labor of love and a beautiful act of empathy for parents and loved ones of deployed soldiers. His pictures are worth a thousand words – actually his pictures are worth much more than that.
Being a Blue Star mom and knowing many Blue Star families, I can testify that when your son or daughter enters the battlefield you are taken from the ranks of the “normal” experiences of parenthood. You are thrust into a world that your non-Blue Star friends have a very hard time relating to. Actually you are thrust into a world that they sometimes abhor. You are suddenly the reminder to them of the evil that lurks in the streets of Baghdad. You are the reminder that if your soldier was not there defending this Country voluntarily, then their son or daughter may have been forced to go.
More than once I have been engaged in a conversation with friends who ‘accidentally’ have said something like “Well it’s better that Johnny works at the gym since he doesn’t want to go to college. At least he’s not being sent to Iraq!” The couple of times this sentiment has slipped out they suddenly look at me, red faced, and I get ‘the look.’ You know what I’m talking about. The look that says “You poor dear! You poor woman!”
Sympathy sucks. I don’t want their sympathy. I want them to know that although I am scared when my son deploys, that I am so intensely proud of him at the same time. I am not pitiful. I am painfully proud! They don’t get it, and I guess maybe I should pity them in return for not understanding — more so for their not wanting to understand.
I had to endure months of photographs from our mainstream media showing me the daily goings on at Berkeley. Our brave Marines were harassed constantly by Code Pink. I am sick and tired of the pandering the MSM does for the antiwar crowd, and then once in a great while we, the Blue Star families are thrown an occasional bone. Typically the only time I see something in the MSM about either war zone is when they are gleefully reporting a set back. I have watched the patterns of their reporting for more than 2-solid years now, and they have made their intentions on reporting this war very clear.
Jim Spiri is a combat photographer. His intentions are also very clear. Jim and his wife Candi, have buried one of their sons, a Marine Officer. Their youngest son serves in the Army as a combat helicopter pilot on his 5th deployment. The Spiris know exactly what I mean when I say that I am painfully proud of my own son. Jim and Candi have comforted our wounded soldiers while they helped load those soldiers for transport from Balad in the early days of the war. The Spiris have stood in the dust of history where our sons and daughters stand. They have stood in the gap between our sons and daughters in harms way, and the fires burning on the home front.
Jim is a combat photographer with some very rich experiences that afforded him the privilege and opportunity to walk the streets of places like Fallujah and Mosul. Jim has stood at the front lines with our Marines and Soldiers. He is a combat photographer veteran. He has served in the silent ranks as a proud father, a proud American and a man who held an instrument of empathy.
Jim has sent his pictures back to the US to other painfully proud parents. He told me that he has sent these pictures back home proudly proclaiming to anxious parents “Look at what your son is doing! Look what he did on this day!” Jim’s message is plain and simple — he has a love for America’s sons and daughters, and for their families. He is not a therapist, so he offers another very powerful tool of communicating his empathy. He offers heartfelt photographs of our sons and daughters doing their jobs. The jobs that put them at risk for losing their health, well being, and sometimes their very lives.
Jim wants to go back to the middle east. He wants to photograph our bravest and finest in Afghanistan. I want to help him do that. I would love for the parents of young, brave men and women in that combat zone see pictures of their children defending this Country against the tyranny of Islamic terrorists. The sons and daughters of military parents, have surpassed us in life experiences and we know it. We simply want to see them doing their jobs so we can proudly show those around us that we don’t need their pity.
We are not pitiful.
My husband, a dear Marine friend of ours, and myself are committed to supporting Jim’s trip.
Stay tuned to my entries here to see how you can participate.
My husband will be offering an original piece of art work for auction. The landscape will be an original painting done from one of Jim’s photographs off the Iraq battlefield.
I will also have Jim’s contact information below so that donations can be sent to Jim directly to help fund this trip. Jim acts as an independent agent. If he didn’t then he would have to have an angle outside of simply wanting to share those priceless pictures of our sons and daughters with their families.
Here’s one link to some of Jim’s work: http://blogs.phillynews.com/philly/spiri/
Additionally, Jim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will keep up a continuing series on how Jim is doing and how he is advancing toward his goal. If you are interested in sponsoring Jim and his trip to Afghanistan, please contact him directly or contact me here at Allmilitary and I will get the message to him.