It took 20 years… an ‘intervention’ by an attentive mentor and it could have been minutes.
All reflection is at best only a partial truth. It all depends on what you believe; and that is subject to influence!
A total view would be desirable for many reasons and so attempt we must to integrate our experiences.
I wanted to share a realisation i had following an international rugby weekend in Murrayfield recently with some old school friends of mine. I write at the risk of rejecting this reflection out of hand in the light of a future; broader perspective.
Stormtroopers Of Death.
Still, It is true that I was part of a privileged playgroup known as the ‘Stormtroopers Of Death’. It extended my boyhood of playing outside right through till my seventeenth year.
On weekday nights, under the careful and selectively blind eye of Major Graham Jenkins (to which I offer much gratitude); we would gather and gain our accreditation’s and stripes by kicking bells out of each other down the woods known as ‘The Collwyn’. Growls and all,we gave each other full purrmission to take hide and seek very seriously. Throwing rocks to hit folk out of trees, jumping and sliding feet flailing through bluebells and rib-cages to capture the flag…it was a boy’s paradise.
We were given lots of resources. Trained in escape and evasion and basic infantry field-craft. We took expeditions, became marksman, met girls, dressed badly in uniforms, took advanced leadership courses and led forced marches in hills, valleys and forests. It was an adventurous playground at the time. We, the S.O.D.’s, sincerely believed we were Cambrian’s finest…
In the absence of natural predators and with the exception of your closest mates, boys take turns to prey on each others weaknesses for power. Looking back we were horrible bastards; but you don’t know that when your’e a kid; right? Still, with plenty of much nastier bastards of all ages out there in our village and towns, we were making the best of it, running havoc through woods, hills and barracks as well as the bus stops and rugby pitches. As we grew older, we punctuated our time between school and cadets with adventures in real ale.
Leaders of Tommorow.
My memories of these years remain as angular, disparate but nonetheless vivid vignettes of intensity. One such memory occurred during a Master Cadet Course at a place called Frimley Park, an infamous academy and spiritual home of the Army Cadet Force.
There,I remember the facilitator … a particularly charismatic mentor called ‘dickey-Para’, confidently decrying all the other regiments as ‘crap hats’ and talking of tales of action in the language and allegories we were keen to acquire and emulate.
I was, at least i assume; on some kind of assessment. Nonetheless, two days in and my assigned squad was carrying webbing and weapons and clasping a big log with rope handles between them; dickie-Para alongside all the while with his Casio employing the stopwatch function.
We had to run with it.
Later still that day, between checkpoints, time and competition necessitated having to run for an ‘as yet to be identified distance’ in double formation along another track. I remember how it went: ‘Prepare to double…’
They echoed… ‘Prepare to double…’
I replied: ‘Double March’ and off we trotted.
After a while, everyone was fatigued. That was the point, or at least the process. To see what happens beyond this threshold… how would you react?
During this moment, I recall two, maybe three of the team whining the peculiar whine of the calorie-less. The ‘knackered beyond vomiting’ zone is at best a big stretch for the newly initiated. Yet here we were…here they were…begging for mercy.
I stuck with the programme for at least thirty seconds. Not that I’ve reflected on this particularly before…. But, during that period, i made a decision to allow the team to break from the run into a walk.
I know now that i wasn’t in charge; the set up’ was presumably a fairly formulaic British Army exercise toned down a bit for adolescents. Presumably though, the test was whether the participants had the mettle to move beyond physical pain or to test their psychological reaction during endurance.
I don’t honestly believe there were any indicators of success beyond completing the task nor was the idea of intervention really going on in the mind of the mentor.
There was no textbook because, beyond a desire to draw out self-reliance and initiative; the programming was about desensitisation.
Despite the parameters of the programme, my choice was to slow down, as the suffering of the participants was, in my view; unnecessary. In fact, in the eyes I began to develop there and then, the aptitudes being taught seemed unnecessary outside of warfare, famine or tribal disputes.
Despite my view, this programming ran and ran and runs to this day. This remembrance has me begging the question.
What was this ‘Advanced Leadership’ preparing us for? Well as it turns out, consciously or unconsciously, this sort of course was perfectly appropriate for the world we were about to engage with…
‘What kind of leader can lead a team through suffering for spurious, unnecessary or entirely selfish goals?’ Isn’t that what a sociopath is? I checked here and then i checked here. Hang on a minute, i thought; these definitions sounds suspiciously like my experience of being and being with other teenage boy(s)…
I have been delving deeper still: ‘What kind of society places value on spurious, product based, unnecessary or entirely selfish goals?’. Well, suffice to say i checked the newspapers and the news and the blogreels and talked to a few close friends about my concerns.
As a man, I am beset by sociopathic tendencies within and without. Sociopaths are found leading the dominant culture that we all swim in.
It is not only acceptable in the world of commerce, industry, education and many other fields; it is actively encouraged. Thank God for women.
In some respects, certainly in the dominant culture I have known; you’ve got to be tough. That is… you make the grade as a bonafide sociopath, you pretend to be one, or you stay on the periphery or you fall by the wayside. These waysides are more than undesirable, rank and file, they are littered with drug use, escalating suicide rates, mental instability and other indicators of deprivation. Who knows what has precipitated this downward spiral/trend? Of course, the answer may lie buried deep in our collective histories; goodness knows that South Wales has had it’s share of ancestral trauma.
My assigned mentor at Frimley Park must have noticed my decision. Yet none of this was apparent in both his reaction nor my glowing course report.
It is clear now that my decision stemmed from a spontaneous experience of empathy; yet empathy was not a word which featured on the curriculum. Caring for others was not an indicator of success.
It took me 20 years to reflect on what happened back there, an ‘intervention’ by an attentive mentor and it could have been minutes.
I don’t recall beyond a dusty photograph and a cloth badge with a cannon on it what else happened at Frimley; but today the subject of social empathy for those in positions of power is piquing my interest and has my pen poised with potency. I know John Ruskin has said it before; but what destination are our ‘captains of industry’ running us too?
I met a friend at the game this weekend from those days who, through a combination of natural aptitude and similar formative experiences to mine has been working in some very high powered financial sector industries. The kind of position where you have to organise, maintain and manipulate large teams and large amounts of binary information flying around huge servers. The types of ‘ones and zeroes’ that decide whether Ole and Lena are going to get fed tonight, or whether a regime stays in power in exchange for mineral rights. That’s right, not exactly the 1% we hear so much about in the alternative media; but one of the bright young minds which enable the wheel to spin so very quickly.
On seeing him, he was pretty much the same man as the boy i knew; he wasn’t stroking a cat in a swivel chair, hell bent on global domination; he didn’t even belong to any nefarious secret societies…. except of course the S.O.D’.
How then is it possible that he exhibits his leadership ‘there’ and I, well; perambulating on the periphery ‘somewhere’? In my view, it all comes down to what you believe; and that is subject to influence. The values my good friend has subscribed too are fairly mainstream. As the remarkable and gifted leader that he was and is; he has simply done well and been rewarded by being creative within the rules of the game. A clever man using sociopathic values to succeed in a sociopathic culture. As my family would say: ‘Tidy boy him…He’s done well for himself.’
The activities as i have mentioned in my opening paragraphs, played directly into all the passions of childhood; yet where was all that energy directed? What indicators of success or awareness could we teach instead? I’m pressing my shoulder to the wheel containing this lot.
To what end? I’m unsure from this present vantage point. I’ve been trying to clearly picture a culture/society that doesn’t aspire to attaining wealth, money or power as it’s solitary aim. I want to hear more about those cultures, I want to experience myself and my gifts when swimming in that kind of pool. There’s the Tibetans of course; but look what’s going on with them.
What kind of scenario would it take for YOU to feel it necessary to lead people beyond their perceived limits of physical endurance and psychological safety? What kind of collective goal would YOU need to achieve to do that? This is a pressing question. In the midst of all this, I intuited during this rugby weekend, at the peak of our nation’s annual shamanic reverie; probably at approximately 4am. Family and Tribe and Hwyl and Hiraeth still mean something in spite all the Psycho’s; and always will.