Let Me Get Right to the Point
By Jeffrey D. BarnettIím thrilled to be writing for Home Fires again after a two-year hiatus. I hope the time has treated my fellow authors well.
I left active duty over two years ago ó 2.29 years to be exact. I often think about how I have changed, or havenít changed, since removing the eagle, globe, and anchor. Some parts of my personality have remained stalwart, for better or worse, while others have gradually conformed to civilian life.
Much has transpired in those two years. I look back at my previous writing for Frontlines and Home Fires and sometimes see a different person. I sometimes read a sentence or paragraph and wince in agony that I published it for the world to read. But that is the nature of life: growth and change. I hope Iíll always have the courage to share what I think at any given point in my life.
When I separated from the Marine Corps I thought civilian life would be like going to work without a uniform, that Iíd just have to flip an internal switch. I didnít realize that many parts of transition would actually take place subconsciously.
The way I act is a reflection of the way I think. And changing the way I think is not like flipping a switch. Also, I rather like the way I think, and I personally believe it to be correct. Donít we all? The result was that I often felt no desire to change or didnít believe that change was necessary.
One of the biggest changes Iíve undertaken has been relaxing my communication style. The Marine Corps values clear, direct, and accurate communication. Senior officers have little tolerance for meandering around your point, and they have zero tolerance for trivial or deceptive nonsense. Junior Marines are similar, except they can perceive this better than most field grade officers. Iíve learned that in civilian life many people want to banter about nothing for about 90 seconds before discussing anything of substance. I donít necessarily like it, but now I can handle it.
Before learning this I would initiate a conversation with a standard greeting and then jump right into my point. When the information transfer was complete I would say ďthanksĒ and jet off to the next stop on my itinerary. I eventually learned that this offends and confuses many people, which was equally confusing to me, because I thought we were communicating about business, not knitting sweaters.
In the Marine Corps work and play were clearly delineated. I loved both, but didnít want to contaminate either. Sure, everybody swaps stories and chats at work, but not on a deadline.
Sometimes Iím able to muster some brief small talk, and sometimes I forget and come across as ďall business.Ē I donít think this verbal ego-stroking is actually more effective than direct communication, but it appears that over the long term, itís in my best interest to adopt it.
At the root of the issue is that I strive to employ the Golden Rule: I treat people as I want to be treated. I do not want anyone to waste my time, so I try to be extremely respectful of othersí time. That means I will not fill our conversation with vacuous verbal goo in order to cement all the actual information together. I get right to the point. I assume you will as well, and that will leave us both with more time to devote to the things we actually care about, which is probably not what we are talking about. And by the way, I love talking with others about common interests, having a beer, maybe a cigar. Iím not a complete social moron (my wife might disagree), I just want to complete our business so we can get to the socializing a little more quickly, O.K.? I suppose the take-away is that not everyone wants to be treated as I do, so the Golden Rule doesnít really work for me, at least not in this area.
Another area where Iíve made progress is not letting some small things bother me, such as punctuality. Our society has much less regard for punctuality than the Marine Corps. Iíve accepted it. I hate it, and Iím not going to adopt it, but Iím going to live with it ó just like death and taxes.
However, some small things still bother me, like flag etiquette. Iíve observed countless instances of people incorrectly storing, raising, lowering, or flying the American flag. The one that burns me the most is not folding the flag as soon as it is removed from the flag pole. Iíve seen people carry the flag indoors in a grotesque wad in order to fold it inside to avoid rain and wind. I once even stopped and tried to politely help.
A storm was approaching with high winds, and a light rain had begun. The person told me, ďWeíll lose it [to the wind]. We have to take it inside.Ē A flurry of thoughts raced through my head. ďI donít think he understands. The flag does not travel in a wad draped over your shoulder. Not from the flag pole to indoors. Not for a single second. If we get wet, then we get wet. If we need more people to control the flag because of wind, then we find more people. But my flag will not look like it was stored in a mayonnaise jar because you didnít want to endure a sprinkle of rain.Ē Sadly, I was unsuccessful in my polite attempt, and didnít want to create a scene. Perhaps more direct communication would have worked better. Iím still learning.
On a positive note, I have genuinely developed more compassion for people in bad circumstances. I still advocate that almost all results in life are a product of our decisions, but Iíve accepted that nobody (including myself) is strong enough, smart enough, or disciplined enough to always make the best decisions. I now recognize the value of having a little bit of sympathy ó but not much. Sympathy is like ice cream. A little bit from time to time makes life better for everyone. Too much, however, will make you soft.
In retrospect, most of these changes involve me accepting a different way of doing things but not necessarily adopting that method, or even liking it. Furthermore, I am completely unsure how much of this change is due to my reintegration as a civilian and how much is simply me getting older and learning. Itís also worth noting that I may just be a weirdo and the Marine Corps is an innocent bystander in this mess. Donít think Iíve discounted that option.
Admittedly, some changes involve recognizing that I may be able to achieve more by acknowledging some social factors that I previously refused to accept. In reality, Iím just living and learning as I live. The Marine Corps contributed immensely to my persona: building new qualities, reinforcing some existing traits, and hammering others into oblivion. Iíll always view it as one of the greatest molding experiences of my life. However, not everybody wants to be a Marine, so perhaps I shouldnít be surprised when they donít interact like one.