[December 5, 2018] About a year after the U.S. invasion of Panama, my engineer unit was sent into country to rebuild some destroyed structures and road networks. When we arrived there was an Engineer Captain who had been on site since the invasion. We were warned that he was going native and that we should be careful when giving him instructions.
In this context, ‘going native’ means that a person adopts the culture (the ways of doing things in another organization or society) where they are located. The Captain, who had a distinguished career, was starting to adopt a small part of the Panamanian culture; something we called the Mañana condition. In other words, whatever assignment we gave him and regardless of its priority, there would be no hurry to begin. For the Captain, going native was a curse.
Mañana means ‘tomorrow’ in Spanish and we would frequently hear it said whenever we gave requests to Panamanians. Part of the U.S. Army’s aggressive culture is to carry out all missions as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The person who adopts the attitude that a mission can wait until tomorrow, will now experience a clash of ideas.
We gave the Captain tasks that we expected to be executed within 24 hours. With the first task, he waited until the last minute to tell us he didn’t understand the problem and the second time, he was “too busy” to get the task done. He had truly gone native.
Going native is not a derogatory concept when used this way. It matters not whether the culture (or subculture) adopted has a positive or negative influence on their behavior. Going native means simply picking up the culture of others for yourself. In this example, the Captain had gone native but to everyone’s disadvantage.
The solution was that he be sent home immediately. Taking him back to Fort Hood, Texas would reintroduce him to other Engineer soldiers, where he would readopt the cultural ways of the U.S. Army. This is similar to new trainees entering the military service. They must learn to take up U.S. military methods and forget their old civilian mentality that is much less aggressive.
The leadership of the U.S. military are aware of this and rotate their troops overseas every year or two and bring them back to the U.S. where they are exposed to our military culture. We have all experienced going native at some point and we may have not even recognized it. As leaders we should be aware of the problem and be prepared to deal with it quickly.