Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why Aren't We Tough Anymore?

Not sure where I read or heard it but I use the previous statement quite often to students and those I mentor. It is very much along the lines of a Friedrich Nietzsche quote "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger" used as a training mantra in the U.S. Navy's BUD/S Special Warfare Training School. Up until the last few hundred years, life was tough for most. 20,000 years ago, it was a struggle to find food, shelter, survive the elements, and to keep from being eaten. Once communities began to form and a roof was a sure bet, there was less fear from tooth and claw, but now man had to deal with "I want what you have". In other words, the strong took from the weak. Pretty much up to the industrial age and the Rule of Law, the majority of humans had to work hard as individuals and as communities to fulfill their basic needs. Work was very physical for both men and women and the image of the rugged individual persisted well into the 20th Century. With the widespread use of electricity and all of its wonderful progeny, leisure time became a significant part of our lifestyle and the concepts of adversity and struggle became a distant memory for most western societies. These days, adversity is finding a lost remote or getting to work on time. A struggle involves making a choice between eating at Outback or Chili's. Psychologists say that humans are basically lazy and that is why we have the modern wonders we have. Humans are always looking for an easier/better way to do things; especially those that help is exert less effort. Greater productivity in less time gives more time for leisure activities and for most; those activities usually don’t require great physical expenditure or risk. We have become soft and spoiled and we like it. Today in the U.S., “Manifest Destiny” has been replaced by “shop ‘till you drop” and “can I super-size that?” The vast majority can spend their whole lives without ever having to deal with the threat of somebody trying to take their stuff and/or killing them. Most of my students have never been in a fight let alone a violent physical assault. As the “softening” of our society continues, the weaker we become both as individuals and as a nation. Lucky for us though, the United States is known for its individualism, its rich history of overcoming great odds, and when push comes to shove, woe be to yea who try picking on us. Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman introduced me to the concept of Sheep, Sheepdogs, and Wolves in his groundbreaking book “On Combat”. The premise being the vast majority of people are sheep, and that’s okay. Sheep keep society humming along on an even keel. Sheep are nice, adverse to violence, pay their taxes, and wave at you on country roads. They have found their station in life and are happy or at least excepting of it. Wolves on the other hand, are not nice, are willing to use any means including violence to get what they want, may or may not pay taxes, and usually see sheep as resources. Sheepdogs in turn look a lot like the wolf, have the same tools and are not hesitant to use violence but only for the common good. They keep the sheep safe and insulated form the big bad wolf. At one time, sheepdogs wore shinning armor or white. These days, they wear the camouflage of our services or the blue of law enforcement officers. Sheepdogs also come in a subtler form, those that recognize violence is a possibility and take steps to ensure they are prepared to meet it even if it includes using violence on their part. The common thread to all sheepdogs is ADVERSITY. Sheepdogs constantly challenge themselves by voluntarily taking on tasks that are difficult. Whether it’s the mental and physical challenges of the military, the dangers of working in law enforcement, the blood and bruises of training in the martial arts, even the effort of going to the gym or shooting range regularly, sheepdogs always take the hard road. Unfortunately, choosing the challenge has become the exception while taking the easy way has become the norm.
I wish I knew the secret to wanting to make things difficult for myself vice sitting in front of the tube for hours. I don’t always want to train, eat in moderation, or workout, but I do because I know I’ll feel better about my choice afterwards. If your informative years have been easy with no expectations other than getting good grades and staying out of trouble, odds are you’re going to want to continue that thought process as an adult. Simple efforts lead to simple rewards. Rewards lead to expectations and expectations lead to entitlements. Pretty soon, everybody is getting, and nobody is giving. Those that have struggled tend to appreciate what they have a lot more than those who have had things given to them. Hard work brings great rewards even if it is only the satisfaction of having done a good job. When I mentor youth, my message is one of effort, service, and choice/consequence. I believe the key is to get the word out to our kids through leadership programs such as Explorers, Scouts, JrROTC, and martial art classes. Even organized athletics offer many opportunities to teach kids the value of effort and challenge. As long as we keep having enough young people volunteer for the military, enroll in a Police Academy, or take responsibility for their own health and protection, we can keep the wolf at bay. Otherwise a nation of sheep with no one to protect it will soon become someone else’s flock or worse.

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