More Professional than ThouA friend of mine, Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, recently posted an article at SoldiersForTheTruth.org that tries to prepare incoming plebes and cadets for what their years at one of the US military academies will actually be like.
Based on twenty-two years of direct observation at Annapolis, Fleming argues that the approach to education adopted by the military academies drains students of the idealism with which they enter. Students are subjected to a high degree of counterproductive frustration that could and should be substantially reduced, to be replaced by methods that build enthusiasm and motivation for performing well ...
... and professionally.
I benefited from reading the entire article, but here I'll just cite one passage that struck me because it alludes to one of my pet ideas, namely that people often lack a clear understanding of what "professional" behavior actually amounts to.
In discussing the start of a plebe's first academic year (which follows Plebe Summer), Fleming, addressing incoming plebes directly, says:
Simply by keeping your eyes open, you realize that many of the first-class [seniors] you were prepared to idolize are goof-offs, looking for ways to get out of doing things rather than being fired up with The Spirit. Some may be downright unprofessional. Their sloppiness may be in their uniforms, their rooms, their attitude, or their people skills. Yet so long as they pass their inspection and don’t get caught doing whatever it is they’re doing, they seem to think it’s okay. They get away with it. And it doesn’t seem to bother them. You’ll realize that people here aren’t interested so much in being good as in looking good. This will be a huge blow to your idealism, which has all the intensity of an 18-year-old eager to take on the world. How can they lecture you on not being “professional” when they’re so lax themselves?Clearly, a goodly contingent of the soon-to-graduate first-class students have yet to internalize the notion that a professional, among other things, is a person who has the discipline to practice what he/she preaches. Instead, in Fleming's view, all too often the impact of the Naval Academy culture is creation of passive aggressive behavior that is anything but professional.
In the "Bottom line" section of his article, Fleming sums up:
Mostly you’ll learn to put your chin down and survive. If you just hang on, it’ll all be over. Midshipmen are constantly counting down to something: the next vacation, the end of the semester, Herndon, graduation. Because you get zapped for everything you do, after a while you’ll cease looking for ways to be pro-active. It’s rare to hear midshipmen enthusiastic about an academic or military challenge unless they make it themselves.For a book-length account of Bruce Fleming's views concerning the culture at Annapolis, you can see his 2005 book, Annapolis Autumn: Life, Death, and Literature at the U.S. Naval Academy.
That’s what you have to “get” about Annapolis: it has lots of opportunities, but despite our rhetoric of “ship, shipmate, self,” the opportunities aren’t collective, they’re individual. Take advantage of everything offered, accept every new challenge vow to become a leader. On your own, I mean, because in my view that’s the only way anybody ever became a leader. Namely, because s/he decided to become one.