[October 3, 2020] If there is one thing I had pounded into us as Privates in the U.S. Army, it was that words matter, and they matter a great deal. But, growing up and living in the civilian world, I learned just the opposite; that words were not just words. The old saying that “sticks and stones…” is about words not affecting us. Hogwash!
As a Boy Scout, I learned their motto, Be Prepared. To me, it was just gibberish, words that I had to memorize, but I had no clue what it really meant. It was not actionable. The same thing was true for their Scout Oath and Scout Law.1 A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc.; we’ve all heard it before. But what we don’t do is talk about what it means or how these “words” can help us in our lives.
As a member of a local protestant church, I heard our minister talk about sacrifice. I heard that offering up of sacrifices is to be regarded as a divine act. For example, in the Old Testament, we read about how Abel offered a sacrifice “of the best portions of the firstborn of his flock.”2 Never did anyone tell me of the symbolism of sacrifice; that it meant giving up something of value today to attain something in the future.
In the military, we listen to speeches, receive guidance from senior-ranking officers, and read our policies and procedures. Too many times, I just zoned out. My attention drifted elsewhere, and I did not stay focused. Was there value in what they had to say; probably, yes? Any real value was lost in the fancy words when these leaders talked; it seemed just to talk.
I was wrong. I was wrong about the words just being words. I was wrong that there was no practical application for what they were saying. Words are essential, and they do matter. Was it my failure that it took me so long to figure this out? Of course, it was my fault. Maybe I was too mentally slow, or I didn’t have the proper motivation to receive the message others were trying to deliver.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” Dr. Jordan Peterson, Rule 9 in his book, 12 Rules for Life
A lesson that Dr. Jordan Peterson often tells us is to listen to others as if they have something important to say. When I read his book (I read it twice), this rule jumped out at me. I sat back and thought that maybe I had made some fundamental mistakes growing up that put me behind my more mature, experienced peers. Later, I played catch-up with them. Later in my military career, I spent more time than my peers reading, studying, and working hard to learn those things others gave me.