I graduate next week from the Army’s Advanced Leadership Course. I’ll have been here 56 days at that point. I’ve learned a lot, and was successful; I graduated on the Commandant’s List, which is the top 20% academically of the over 200 NCOs in my class. The cadre evaluated our oral and written communication skills, as well as critical thinking and leadership ability.
But one thing in particular bothered me after a few weeks here. The competition between members of my platoon after about two weeks degenerated into back-biting and jealousy. One person told me that he felt our instructor showed favoritism toward me because on several occasions the instructor indicated to the class that I was doing well. I tried to quell the subtle and growing animosity by some by remaining humble and being helpful to them whenever I could. This mostly worked except for a few, who became particularly spiteful when they learned they were not chosen for Commandant’s List. I myself did not make it a goal to be on the list, only to do the best I could on each project and to project a personality and skill that would make people want me on their team, should they have to choose. The Commandant’s List was not only a construction of the cadre, but also of peer reports on the most capable in the class.
To be sure, there were many in the class who did not express jealousy or envy, which I find to be one of the most repugnant emotions in existence, particularly when displayed by men. Jealousy is an open admission of weakness and lack of self-confidence. if I find it growing in myself, I smash it down and look in the mirror to see the ways I can improve myself as opposed to wasting energy picking at someone else. Of course there are times that criticism of others is valid and needed. but tact and courtesy should be employed in those cases.
Looking back at my younger days and considering the effects of competition, I realize one of the reasons I did not perform well in junior high school was that I hated competition with strangers. I preferred a feeling of cooperation and camaraderie. Perhaps it was because I was searching for a family, a clan. At some point I had to toughen up. I began lifting weights and became very physically active. Slowly, my aversion to competition faded.
The first really difficult thing I ever did as an adult was attend the US Border Patrol Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. There, I was surrounded by people who’d had much more exposure to competition than I. Many people at the Academy were military veterans; I had a college degree and worked at a corner store at that point. Certainly nothing that challenged me, or made me take pride in myself. In the first half of my time in the Academy, I struggled. I didn’t put in the needed study time that’s required to learn a foreign language, as well as federal law. But at some point, things clicked, and I shot up in my class ranking in language skill. That was a turning point in my life. Never again was I to struggle in any academic setting.
Colonel Jeff Cooper said that pride was a key component in a good soldier. I agree. Pride drives us to despise being last. But I still place a high degree of importance on sportsmanship and humility. When we lose, we should gracefully give credit to our competition. This builds the team, the clan, the family. In the end we make ourselves more successful in doing this. Too much pride breeds envy, the feeling that somehow we deserve more than perhaps we do.