What the Military Taught Me About Individualism

Growing up in a disciplined household entering into Air Force Basic Training as a green 17 year-old wasn’t too much of a shock. I was used to being organized, responsible, and aware of my surroundings. Most of the other airmen adapted rather well also. Even though your average teenager thinks they know everything, they’re pretty pliable at following orders and getting in line with what was required of them. It was the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who had difficulty.

From the moment you arrive at the base you clearly get the message that you are a part of a group. You will eat together, sleep in the same open barracks, shower in groups, march in formation, be punished together, and basically only be as strong as the weakest link in the squadron.

In other words, you as an individual become an integral part of the collective whole.

At 17 years old I learned a lot in a very little amount of time. I took those lessons into Air Force Tech School and practiced them daily. You are being groomed to understand how to work toward a mission. A larger, more important goal than your own desires, wants, and comfort.

Individualism of the masses

I took to the mission principle rather well, mostly because I understood the importance and need to accomplish said mission — whatever it may be at the time.

Once I returned to a normal life I began to experience a frustration of sorts. Frustration over how some individuals have a self-importance about them. How they view themselves as the only ones with “real” agendas.

They give off an aura of:

“Get out of my way, I’m late for work.”

“I’ll just cut in line, I’m more important.”

“I don’t care what’s going on, I want my fries.”

I think it’s a lack of awareness. I had the great opportunity to be taught about the big picture. The potential fact that there may be some things going on that I’m not aware of. Something bigger than me.

In the military there’s an old saying: Hurry up and wait.

We also do a ton of things that may not have made complete sense at the time, but were crucial to the overall mission. We had to have an understanding that some things are done for a bigger reason. Reasons we were not aware of at the time. Once the day, week, or mission was over then it all made sense.

If you want others to move out of your way on the road because you’re late for work maybe everyone is late that day or maybe there’s a wreck ahead with some serious injuries.

If you try to slide in and cut in line you are doing all the others a disservice. Your showing your kids that it’s okay to buck the system.

If you want to lay into your server at a restaurant because they appear to be slow, they may be slammed with tables, other staff never showed for work, or that the kitchen is backed up.

Awareness

Being aware that we as individuals aren’t the only ones on this earth and life doesn’t wait on us like we are the most important thing at the moment is a first step. We are an important part of the collective. We live in a society which requires us to be considerate, kind, and aware of others’ situations.

We are all in this together like roommates. Yes, we are individuals with unique needs. Some of us have special needs, have come from difficult circumstances, or are going through some serious issues. I get it. But that’s all the more reason to keep the big picture in front of us.

As a byproduct we can then find ways to help, be of service to others, and make the world a little bit better.

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