A friend of mine gifted me with a couple of movie passes recently, and I used them to indulge in the guilty pleasure of one of the recent blockbusters. You know, the one with the tough guy with the nifty explosions and urgent cel phone calls…sorry if I gave the plot away there.
This one was quite fun, with plot holes big enough to fly a C-130 through, but lots of fun action sequences and well-choreographed fight scenes. It also had something that was rather unusual to see in generic Hollywood fare: a tough lady. That is, a middle-aged government official being interrogated and fighting her captors every inch of the way. She was outnumbered, overmatched, and there was no way she could win except by refusing to give them the information they wanted.
She was a patriot and held to her sacred oath and spit back in the faces of those who threatened her country, and I wanted to stand up and cheer for her. I also wanted to congratulate the writers for putting in such a great character, for not bowing to the stereotype of feminine = delicate as so many do.
Then they ruined it. Her superior officer ordered her to give up the code – because he couldn’t stand seeing her beaten. Some would use that as a rationale for keeping women out of combat. I see it as a rationale for teaching the men in the service that the women in the service have as much right to give their lives for their country as anyone – and then, as Patton put it, encourage the other guys to use that privilege instead.
Or, hey, let’s just try and keep everyone out of combat. I remember when the subject of women in combat came up in the squad bay, my fellow grunts were basically of the opinion “Hey, if they’re dumb enough to want to get shot at, let ’em!”
But that’s a different subject. Mainly I was upset at the movie because it denied that character the chance to really prove her mettle – not to me or anyone else, but to herself.
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One
(warning for one obscenity near the end)
The Joint Chiefs are having a luncheon on an aircraft carrier and their conversation turns to who has the toughest members in their respective branches. The Air Force representative holds up a finger and says “Let me demonstrate!”
Summoning a pilot, he orders “I want you to fly a fighter up into the stratosphere, do a power dive and pull out of it when you’re only 100 feet off the deck!” The pilot salutes with a crisp “Yes, sir!”, jumps in the cockpit, shoots up into the wild blue yonder, attempts to pull out and ends up crashing into the Atlantic, following his orders to the end. The General of the Air Force smiles with satisfaction and tells the others “That, gentleman, was an Airman!”
The Army General, not to be outdone, summons a Green Beret over. “I want you to do a High-Altitude Low-Opening jump, soldier!” he orders. “And I don’t want you to yank that ripcord until you’re ten feet off the deck!” The Green Beret snaps a salute and a hearty “HOOAHH!” and a short time later they see the parachute deploy prettily above the ocean as the obedient serviceman crashes into the waves. “That, gentleman, was a Green Beret!”
The Admiral of the Navy has been looking on with mild amusement, and decides it’s his turn. He turns to a SEAL, tosses him a butter knife and says “Sailor, I want shark soup for dinner!” The SEAL says “Aye aye, Admiral!” puts the knife between his teeth and dives over the side of the carrier. A moment later the Chiefs see a bloody frenzy of fins and hands and not-so-crisp sailor whites. Sitting back in his chair, the Admiral smiles with satisfaction. “That, gentleman, was a Navy SEAL.”
The Marine Corps Commandant purses his lips, thinking for a moment, and then looks up. Spying a lonely little Lance Corporal up standing watch a hundred or so feet up in the crow’s nest. He yells up “Hey, Marine!”
The Lance Corporal looks down, seeing the shiny brass on the Commandant’s shoulders. “Yes, sir?”
The Commandant points to his four stars, just to be sure. “Do you know who I am, Marine?”
“Sir, yes I do, Commandant sir!”
The commandant smiles. “I want you to jump down from there!”
There is a moment of hesitation. Then the Lance Corporal’s voice floated down, a note of disbelief in it. “Sir?”
The Commandant hardened his voice. “I am the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, and I am ordering you to jump down from that crow’s nest right NOW!”
After a moment, the answer comes back loud and strong. “SIR! FUCK YOU, SIR!”
Smiling, the Commandant turns to his lunch companions. “That, gentlemen, is a Marine.”
The Lessons Learned
That’s how I wish the writers had written that woman’s character. Beyond the idea of “unlawful orders” is the simple matter of being able to choose to go into the fire of adversity willingly, not because you’re sure you’ll survive but because you demand the right to find out.
That’s one of the most unusual things I’ve noticed about being a Grandpa. I enjoy watching my grandsons meet obstacles (and, I must confess, I occasionally put them in their way) because I want to see how they overcome them. I watch their decision making process, how they review their options, choose one, and then how they deal with either the frustration or the victory as they see the results of their efforts. Whether it’s Harvey giving a triumphant high-five or Victor growling as he tries to open a storage bin, it’s fun to watch their abilities to handle adversity grow. It’s through these tiny reinforcements that they acquire the resilience they’ll need for the rest of their life.
And the same applies to all of us. The practice that I’m going to recommend this week is the practice of watching yourself handle life’s little (or big) speedbumps. Not to worry about handling them – of course you can do that, you do that all the time. But watch how you handle it, and look at what kind of skills and strengths you are acquiring as you move past each event. It’s a skillset that you’ve already started, and like an exercise regimen you may have overdeveloped some muscles and neglected others. Are you great at anger management but lousy at overcoming procrastination? Do you handle events with ease and grace but then somehow forget to avoid the same mess from occurring again and again?
Pay attention to your process, tough guy/gal. It makes a difference.