People often ask me what inspires me to write on a certain subject. Sometimes it is pure interest on my part, sometimes it is prodding by my wife, oftentimes it is driven by current events. Occasionally I receive inspiration from a little nugget of knowledge I was not expecting.
Such is the case with this one. It hopefully will inspire some degree of soul-searching in the way we perceive our own progress in weapons training and the development of Mastery at Skill At Arms.
A few weeks ago I was sworn in as a member of the Washington, D.C. Bar. One of the benefits of longevity is you are able to bypass certain pesky hurdles, like sitting for bar exams. Washington offers admittance by motion (as opposed to admittance by passing a bar exam) for licensed attorneys who have been continuously active in their respective bars for more than five years. Since I was admitted to the California Bar in 1995, I fit the bill.
Still… standards are standards, and money is money. The D.C. Bar does demand that all motioned attorneys take an ethics class (online). (I know… Attorney Ethics appears to be an oxymoron, but there are quite a few ethical considerations that need to be monitored in representing a client.) More importantly, taking the class costs money and, in the end, what the Bar really wants is cash.
That notwithstanding… the four-hour course did have some value. An interesting sidebar conversation by one presenter, though, really caught my attention.
He was talking about how our desire to succeed could cloud our reasoning as it related to maintaining ethical conduct. To drive home his point, he mentioned a famous study (at least he said it was a famous study). I had actually never heard of it, but it piqued my interest specifically, if not ironically, not as it related to the practice of law, but rather to the practice of gunfighting.
The study is called the Darly and Baston Seminar Study. There are a few different versions that appear online, so the complete veracity of the study is somewhat questionable, but the conclusions do seem to be fairly consistent…
In 1975 researchers Darly and Baston went to the Princeton School of Seminary Studies. There, they told the young would-be pastors that they were brought in by their professors to do a special “pop quiz” type assignment. Their ruse was that the seminary realized that pastors would from time-to-time be called upon to make effectively impromptu speeches, and they were to be tested on their ability to quickly and efficiently put together a 20-minute speech or sermon and then execute it. The topic was to be on “good Samaritanism”. Each student was to be given 30 minutes to come up with a speech. Then, one-by-one, they would be instructed to go to another building where the faculty would be assembled and they would present their speech. They were to be graded on content, quality and, importantly, length. It had to be exactly 20 minutes. For each minute they finished early they would be dinged a significant amount of their final grade.
Also… and this is important… for each minute they started late, they would be dinged on their final grade. Thus, it was critical the students make it to the auditorium across campus in a timely manner so they could start on time and not be penalized.
One-by-one each student left to head to the auditorium where he encountered an actor. The actors were off the side of the sidewalk lying on the ground in a state of extremis. They were “bleeding” profusely and literally begging for help.
These seminarians… these pastors in training… these “good people” avoided stopping and rendering aid to the victim to the tune of 93 percent! This, after preparing a speech on being a good Samaritan!
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A second group was given an identical task, but not told there was a time component attached to the grade. This group stopped to render aid at a far higher degree.
The conclusion was when individuals are constrained by a punitive outcome, their focus becomes avoiding that outcome, even to the extent of engaging in what could best be described as immoral behavior.
I found this fascinating. (I also found the test itself was probably unethical, which is kind of ironic in and of itself.) The point here is when we place a negative or punitive outcome on what could be seen as our perceived failure, we are willing to overlook even the most fundamental aspects of our own humanity.
I’ve seen this on a smaller scale way too many times.
We have students who literally berate themselves when they don’t shoot as accurately as they hoped they would. When it comes to tactics (especially on the VR system) we tell them where their weak points were and they become defensive.
“I didn’t do that!”
“The bad guy couldn’t see me as I pied the corner!”
Then we shift them to the position of the bad guy and replay the scenario, this time allowing the trainee to literally see what the bad guy saw.
Some simply exclaim: “Wow… I had no idea. Okay… let’s get to work correcting that!”
Others become so self-abusive, we worry about their safety.
Goals are important, and they serve as a motivation towards self-improvement, but they can also make vices of our virtues. When the goal threatens to destroy our own humanity, we need to question the validity of the goal or, at the very least, our expectations of achieving it.
Can we all become John Wick?
Actually… we can. It might take ten thousand hours of repetitive training, but it will happen. It might also require working on other aspects of ourselves irrespective of our ability to manipulate a weapon. Perhaps reducing our caloric intake, walking a few blocks and doing a few push-ups might be a nice addition to our speed reloads and malfunction drills, no? What becomes problematic is when we believe these goals will be achieved with minimal effort. What becomes traumatic is when we question our self-worth because we have not achieved these goals in a fraction of the time it should normally take.
What becomes unacceptable is when we lose our own humanity in the process