The Captain Shows Up
The Army captain was about 6 ft. tall and built like G.I. Joe – the modern one. It was clear that he had sent this uniform to a tailor outside the gates of Ft. Bragg. We had heard that you could get your uniform shirts and pants tapered to accentuate your physique. Several of us officer candidates were counting down the days until we could become junior versions of this guy.
The uniform, his size, and the crazy war cry that preceded his entrance, had us intimidated. But as ROTC cadets, this was also the image we were shooting for one day. He introduced the block of instruction as a lecture on SERE – “Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion.” He then summoned a sergeant forward from behind the bleachers where we were seated. The sergeant was holding a chicken. The incongruity would have been amusing if it wasn’t for the intensity with which the captain was staring at the chicken.
The Chicken Loses
There’s a scene from the movie, “Rocky,” where the hero had to chase a chicken around the yard to improve his footwork. This time, there wasn’t even a contest. The captain grabbed the chicken, bared his teeth and…
…bit the chicken’s head off.
It wasn’t a smooth process but there was never a doubt as to the outcome. He spat out the chicken’s head to one side and tossed the body in the other direction. Coming from New York City I wasn’t prepared to see the headless chicken run around for several more seconds before it collapsed. He said he was prepared to pull the feathers off and eat the chicken raw if he needed the energy to keep going.
You know how some speakers lead off with a joke or an impactful PowerPoint slide? This guy had his own way of warming up an audience. There was no competition for our attention.
The chicken beheading was a prelude to a story about his brief time as a wounded captive of the Viet Cong. This was 1979 and the Vietnam War was still fairly fresh in our memories. As soon-to-be Army officers, we were preparing for the Soviet menace but there were still lessons we could learn from the last war.
The captain let us know that he had regarded his prisoner status as a tremendous inconvenience and that he had no intention of letting it last for long. He planned to escape as soon as he was captured. His plans for escape were not going to be fueled by any military code of conduct. He asked us to guess his motivation for a quick escape. No one wanted to give the wrong answer, so no one raised a hand.
Motivation – The Big Enough “Why”
He didn’t wait long before lowering his voice and using a tone that made all of us feel foolish for not guessing the right answer – “I had my woman to get home to.” It was amazing how he was able to make this a head-smacking moment of obviousness. This was also the cue for the sergeant to reappear for an unneeded point of emphasis. This time, the victim was a snake. In a matter of seconds, it ended up in two pieces at his feet. Was it a poisonous snake? Does it really matter? He made the same point about eating the snake that he had made about the chicken. You do what you have to do. Anyway, doesn’t snake taste like chicken?
The captain had a big enough “Why.” When faced with a decision, most people go through a process where they Analyze-Think-Change. The captain went through a process that was See-Feel-Change. The pictures he created of his goal drove his emotion. His emotion created the conditions for his survival. Too much analysis and reflection would have meant his death or recapture.
You can listen to the experts, read the books, and gather all the information that’s out there. Will you take action? Create the right pictures and you’ll get the powerful feelings that will lead you to the change you seek.
P.S. With a big enough “Why” the “How” will appear.
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