Want to know who you are? Who you really are?
You won’t learn it by looking in a mirror, smiling at what you see, and walking off fat, dumb, and happy. You won’t learn it by kidding yourself into thinking that everyone is out of step except you. And you won’t learn it by lolling around inside the house, convinced there’s no use going outside because all those dummies out there just can’t learn to do things your way.
But I know a place where you can learn it, a place that will change you for the better if you’re able to face the truth — or will boot you out the door if you’re not.
Let’s talk about life a little.
We all start out life the same way, in a crib, togged out in diapers, eating, getting fat, messing our pants, and yelling every time something isn’t right — according to us.
It’s not a great way to start life, but it’s a start.
Trouble is, it teaches us some things.
It teaches us that we are due a handout. It teaches us that we are Numero Uno, the center of the universe. It teaches us that when we make a mess someone will come along behind us and clean it up. It teaches us that when we don’t like the way things are going, all we have to do is stamp our feet, get red-faced, and yell.
And bingo! We get what we want.
There comes a time, of course, when we are supposed to UN-learn those things, when we’re supposed to quit stamping our feet, getting red-faced, and yelling. Some manage it, some don’t.
Most of that unlearning is supposed to be over with by the time we reach the end of our teens. By then we are expected to be reasonably level-headed, reliable, and able to work. And we’re supposed to have learned that the whole world does not revolve around what we want, what we like, or who we think we are.
That’s also the time when Fate leans down, frowns at us, cocks a finger, and flicks us out of the nest.
In my day — the Korean War era — that led to one of two results: Either you got a nesting-time extension by going off to some institute of higher education, or you raised your right hand, swore to defend the Constitution of the United States and obey the orders of the officers appointed above you. Then you boarded a bus. Pretty soon you arrived in a big place with a lot of look-alike buildings, went into one of them, put your things down on a bunk, and joined the real world for the first time in your life.
Some of the folks who went off to places of higher education actually learned something. A part of what they learned, for some of them, was the rest of the unlearning process they started back home. But for others, the ones who partied their way through four years of school, the unlearning was never completed. They came back wearing the same mental diapers they had on when they left.
And what about the folks who raised their right hands?
Well, I’ve lived in a lot of places in my time. A lot of them. But there is one place that taught all of life’s lessons in a one-room schoolhouse. It was a place that separated the wheat from the chaff, one that quickly taught you who you were, what was wrong with that, and how you could change it.
I am speaking, of course, of an open bay barracks.
You know what? Before we became such doggone complicated critters, the whole world was an open-bay barracks. We lived in clans that roamed around the countryside trying to scrape up a living. It wasn’t easy. The world wasn’t the least bit concerned about us. Food was scarce. There were six-legged critters that got there first and ate it up. There were four-legged critters that got there first and ate it up. And there were some critters that let us eat our fill and then ate us, thereby getting fat without having to bother with all that scratching around.
There was wind and rain — on the good days. On the bad ones there was wind, and rain — and snow, and droughts, and floods, and earthquakes. Not to mention tornadoes, tsunamis, and volcanoes.
Mainly, though, there was the rest of the clan. As soon as you were old enough to walk and talk they set you to work. And they eyeballed you as you worked to see if they liked the cut of your jib. If they didn’t, they gathered up some rocks and chased you off, figuring you weren’t a keeper.
That’s about the way things were in an open-bay barracks.
The folks who were running the place — the ones with all the silver and gold on their shoulders — thought they were in charge. And they were — sort of.
They made the rules, and they enforced them, fussing a lot when they were broken, sometimes stamping their feet, getting red in the face, yelling, and ...
Hm-m-m-m. I need to think about that one, Johnny.
Well anyway, moving on ...
Back in 1839 in the penal colonies in Australia, a Scot named Alexander Maconochie came up with a better idea than sentencing men to from 100 to 1,000 lashes for doing something wrong, a plan which wasn’t working because it kept using up all the workers by killing them off. Maconochie’s idea was simple. Break up the convicts into groups of six. Each day give the whole group good marks or bad ones depending on how they did. He said that each man would work hard and stay honest because he knew what would happen to him if he screwed up the group.
That’s how the open-bay barracks training program works, but instead of having six guys looking over your shoulder when you make your bunk or whatnot, you have 60 — 30 in each bay.
Want to get yourself into big trouble? Try getting 60 guys confined to the barracks — with you! — for the weekend.
So how did the guys in the barracks promote unlearning?
Next week, some examples you will dearly love.