Facing a Challenge When You Are Surrounded by Enemies
How a look into the United States Marine Corps’ “Retreat, hell, we just got here!’ can help us face the times we feel surrounded.
Having the courage, strength, and vulnerability to face our challenges is not an easy feat. Challenges, whether they be financial, relationship, career, or behavior (yours or others), are our opportunity to dig deep into our core values, self-confidence, and trust that “this too shall pass”. A problem can be small or overwhelming. In both cases, we, as individuals, have a choice to face the issue or not. The bigger the challenge the deeper we have to dig to not retreat, embrace a “Who, Me?” defense, or throw self-imposed road blocks in the way.
Before we can get to the core of the Corps’ “Retreat Hell”, we need to look at the bad, the ugly, and the obstacle. Then we will explore how two recent incidents, one national and one local, hit the United States Marine Corps and its pristine reputation, and their responses. The lesson in the responses can be a treasured lesson for all of us to embrace; though we may not wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, we can learn a lot from studying their ethos.
The Bad, The Ugly, and The Obstacle
What does embracing a disappearing act, taking up a double-edged sword, or creating some pretty fancy detours look like? I am sure you have seen it in others, especially in the political arena, in unscrupulous corporations, and in saintly organizations.
Facing a challenge by embracing “The Bad” method can take on two different paths that lead to the same cliff’s edge known as Avoidance. Both are internal daggers to a person or organization’s soul. When using the method, one either morphs into a Hermit or a Turtle.
The Hermit physically goes into hiding. Leaves the tainted environment and runs in the opposite direction. He finds a deep cave living in the darkness and feeding off, “why me’” and “I’m not at fault. Not my circus.” The Hermit views the problem as basically not their responsibility.
The Turtle physically goes into hiding, but does not leave. This person creates a bunker in his home, office, or hut. He nervously avoids answering any questions, entering before anyone, and leaving after the janitor has gone home. For the Turtle if the problem is ignored, it will simply go away in time.
The Ugly can also take two different paths. The difference is that the Ugly paths are created to deflect external onlookers by creating doubt in the known. They cause others to suffer. A person or organization choosing the Ugly takes either (sometimes both if they are highly skilled at deflection and media savvy) the Switch and Bait, or the Point.
Switch and Bait requires media savvy, a skilled deflector, and a detachment from personal responsibility. The goal is to change the topic from the challenge facing the organization, and turn it into someone else’s problem, thereby ignoring the issue.
The Point takes Switch and Bait one step further by pointing the finger at one particular person that is far worse than them, as justification for or lessening their wrong doing. Basically, it’s the story of “Peter Crying Wolf.”
The Obstacle is an interesting method of dealing with challenges; it too has two different paths. However, the person or organization employing this method is not denying responsibility, but instead is buying time to figure out how to handle it. The problem with that is the issue keeps growing and the anxiety and stress of the perpetrator or organization intensifies. The two paths are Yield and Detour.
Yield can also be called procrastination. When this method is employed, any little thing can be used as an excuse to not face the challenge. Here are a few examples – “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done right.”; “I do my best writing at night,” but little gets done because the household is in full swing and the noise levels are too much; or my favorite, “I keep getting too many phone calls or emails. I can’t just keep folks hanging.” Anything and everything becomes more important than sitting down and facing the problem. This type of delay tactic creates a boiler explosion of increased anger and depression – anger for those waiting for the issue to be resolved, and depression for the one or low morale for the organization waiting for the perfect answer.
Detour is similar to Yield, but differs in that the person or organization creates the delay by crafting events or “to do’s”, and making them the priority. The detour signs are events ranging from planning trips, deciding to do home repairs that have been on the books for years, using holidays and visits, etc. as reasons to not to address the challenge.
Life does get in the way, and it should not be “all work and no play”, but when a challenge is known and has been known, then it is time to go full-force by staying with it until it is rectified, especially if you are on a deadline. The Detour person ends up sitting with frustration and exhaustion, or worse, tossing and turning all night in a dark hole of anxiety.
I freely admit to using the Yield sign way too many times in my pursuit of expanding my writing career, which is why there has been a delay in the re-launching my author site or launching my business site. Yes, it takes time to develop sites, but I know my strengths – creative, decisive, visualization, and loving challenges – I just got too comfortable sitting in Dr. Seuss’ Waiting Place.
There are many books and philosophies that address the issue of facing a challenge whether as an individual or organization. I found the most direct and focused method by studying and watching the reaction of the United States Marine Corps in two recent tragic challenges to their beloved Corps. The first made national news; the second did not. Let me start with the second because it involved one Marine who stood his ground and did not retreat. He embraced the Corps Ethos of STAND YOUR GROUND.
STAND YOUR GROUND
I am not willing to replay this tragedy with names or location. Dragging out the details is not the point of this article. Last month on a rural highway leading to a Marine base a young Sergeant failed to stop when a school bus extended its STOP sign. Tragically a high school boy walking to the bus was hit and killed.
The Marine’s reaction caught me somewhat by surprise. He did not leave the scene. He stood his ground. He knew he was wrong. He knew his chances of staying in the Corps were likely gone. His whole life would never be the same, because he took the life of an innocent child. The Corps had taught him that personal responsibility is the core ethos of the organization; to not stand your ground when you are wrong and admit it, and accept the results, will destroy your inner strength and disgraces the meaning of being a Marine.
Why am I using this tragedy as an example? Because days before this horrific event, two incidents of pedestrians being hit in my community ended with the drivers running away from the scene. They ran away from their mistakes. They choose the Hermit path, while the Marine Sergeant chose to face the consequences of his actions. How he will deal with the death of a promising life is yet to be seen, but he did turn himself in and is likely facing prison time.
Stand Your Ground is the willingness to face your foes, mistakes, and challenges directly, no matter the hit to your personal being. It requires that you dig deep for the strength and courage to own up to your decision or indecision. It is about accepting responsibility for your actions. Even more than that, to apologize for the havoc you have created in others’ lives. It is the way of the Corps.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE
The following scenario is well-known. Media coverage of the social media posting and comments regarding nude pictures of female Marines by their fellow Marines crossed every social media forum, prime-time news, 24/7 cable news, and national papers, like a Southern California wild fire. Discussions on Twitter and Facebook ranged from disgust at the behavior of both the males and females who voluntarily took nude photos and posted them, to sympathy for the women who had no idea they had been photographed, to how in the hell could an organization like the Corps get caught up in this mess.
An argument could easily be made that all those knowingly involved in the scandal must have had their heads in the sand to think this would not go public, and that this age group of Marines, like their civilian counterparts, live under a false reality – it is safe to share everything – that there are no consequences to sharing on social media. But the problem was deeper than that and the Corps recognized it for what it was – sexual harassment was running amuck within the ranks of their organization; an organization that prides itself in “A Marine is a Marine.” There are no other labels in the Corps.
When the story first broke and I realized the incidents had begun out of USMC Base Camp Lejeune, I was stunned. In the process of researching for my upcoming book, Generals and Grunts, I had been at that base in November interviewing the 1/8 and 2/6, both combat units. Every Marine I spoke to on base, combat and non-combat, spoke of their deep love for the Corps and the ethos of God, Corps, Nation. Their sincerity, integrity, and honesty is a real as the rifles all Marines carry. I am a pretty good judge of character, and I would testify on a stack of Bibles that this scandal is an anomaly. I felt sure that Marine Headquarters and the Commanding General would not sweep this under the rug.
I was right.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps himself, General Robert Neller, took the hit. Not because he could see himself doing the same thing, but because he leads the Corps in all battles. In the following videos Neller addresses the media and Senate Armed Forces Committee on the allegations. He did not run or point a finger or ignore the issue despite his travel schedule and responsibility toward the entire Marine Corps. He did not send someone else to answer to the allegations. He stood up, by himself.
I can see the ghost of Lt. General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller – the ultimate Marine Corps legend and the man every recruit says goodnight to during boot camp – whispering in Neller’s ear, “They’re in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by the enemy…They can’t get away from us now!” It is not bravado or arrogance that Chesty’s words instill, instead they inspire Marines to not waiver in the face of danger or a challenge.
If you take the time to watch both videos, you’ll see the within the Corps’ ethos the principle that demands each individual take responsibility – as an individual or as a unit – for a challenge thrown at them. I will not go into the details of Neller’s response, because I truly believe if you watch him, you too will be inspired to face your gremlins and demons with the same demeanor and fortitude.
Though the media surrounding this issue has died down, the Marines have not stopped addressing the allegations. The Corps will deal with all aspects of this wrong from those found guilty of demeaning a fellow Marine, to those posting on social media, and then they will go one step further.
New standards and training regarding sexual harassment, social media, and reinforcing of “the Buck Stops with Me” philosophy will be drilled into every Marine from the enlisted to the officer. After all, they are “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.”
The Buck Stops with Me is a key Servant-leadership character trait. It demands an individual, both privately and in his position of power, be willing to acknowledge an error, accept responsibility, and take full-force action to correct the issue. It requires that you dig deep for the strength, courage, and calmness of Chesty in the middle of being surrounded during a battle. And it is understanding that what is in front of you will only be one of many battles in a war to remain in integrity. It is the way of the Corps.
Facing a challenge when you are surrounded is one of many lessons explored in my upcoming book, Generals and Grunts. The Way of the Corps, the Marine ethos applied to each of us, gives us an opportunity to face life’s presentation of opportunities and challenges with fortitude, strength, and courage.