Remember why you serve, or why you did serve. If you’re retired or have moved into a new career, don’t let your new way of life make you any less happy than when you were serving. Of course there will be moments of doubt and nervousness, you are entering or have been thrown into a new world of uncertainty and chaos. But you have the tools and the know how to continue. You answered the call of duty, you are a warrior, and always will be. Those of us who volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces and in the First Responder world truly are cut from a different cloth. Whether you think about the classic sheep/sheepdog/wolf paradigm, or a sense of calling and duty of being the 'protector', these roles in human societies have been going on for thousands of years. Long before war movies and TV shows glorified our jobs and long before anyone got paid to do this work, people were gearing up, grabbing their swords and running in to the hills to protect their families and communities from enemies. And all the bad things that go bump in the night.
For as long as our species exists there will be something or someone trying to hurt us. Animals will attack, forest fires will rage, bad people and bad ideas will grow and we will have more wars. It is inevitable. It's human nature to always want more, to have more, to be able to provide the most amount possible for our family and our Tribe. Always wanting more and securing a future for our offspring will unavoidably lead someone, somewhere, to want it bad enough that he or she is going to take it from someone else. Even if by some miracle, we spread out the enormous wealth and prosperity we see today across the globe, pull everyone out of poverty, educate enough people to get out of the dogmatic and narrow-minded views that cause conflict and achieve world peace. Even if we can accomplish this staggering feat, we would still have to deal with all the natural disasters, man-made disasters, and outbreaks of deadly diseases or famine. Someone somewhere, will always be going into harm's way, for someone else.
But why? What makes someone say, I would like to jump out of helicopters and fight forest fires. Surely this isn't the healthiest thing to do for this human, nor is it physically easy. For the adrenaline rush? Fame? The glory?
We are the most social creature in the history of the planet. Our social structures and the complexities within them are extremely complicated and hard to understand. But it is this link, a connection to a large and social group of about 150 people that allowed our species to out-compete and ultimately survive over all the others- including other human species. “A social brain also allows specialization of skills so individuals can concentrate on supporting childbirth, tool-making, fire setting, hunting or resource allocation. Humans have no natural weapons, but working in large groups and having tools allowed us to become the apex predator, hunting animals as large as mammoths to extinction.” writes Dr. Mark Maslin, Professor at University College London and author of The Cradle of Humanity. Dr. Maslin continues “Our social groups are large and complex, but this creates high stress levels for individuals because the rewards in terms of food, safety and reproduction are so great… It takes a huge amount of cognitive ability to exist in large social groups, and if you fall out of the group you lose access to food and mates and are unlikely to reproduce and pass on your genes.”
When Dr. Maslin talks about Humans, he is talking about Homo Sapiens. It’s hard to believe but we existed alongside other human species for almost 200,000 years. Expertly pointed out in his bestselling book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari explains that our species went through a ‘cognitive revolution’ around 70,00 years ago. This growth in our cognitive ability allowed us to work better in larger groups (around 150), and create stories and identities that do not really exists- tribal spirits, nations, territories, etc. This is important because it’s hard to get humans to risk their lives and fight for something without having a common entity to believe in. This could be the Tribe’s territorial lands, or maybe an ancient god or spirit, and in the 21st century, our countries and religions. And this could be a large factor in why we outlasted other species, some of who were larger in size than the Homo Sapiens- Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Erectus, etc.
As we evolved and began living in large groups we could specialize in certain skills. These skills or tasks were not done for the individual but, for the group, the tribe. As small team of hunters roamed the plains in search of food, they were risking life and limb for the needs of the many. And as our hunters returned to the group with a fresh kill, they would undoubtedly receive praise and accolades for a job well done, thus raising their social status among the group. Which comes along with a host of benefits including a higher chance of passing their genes along to the next generation. The person with the strength and stamina to be a great hunter, the person with great vision and patience to be an good forager all passed their genes on over and over again. And as evolution worked it’s magic over thousands of years we now inherit these traits that made us great for hunting and gathering on the Savanna and on the Eurasian continent 30,000 years ago. Our Warrior (hunter/protector) gene is deep down in our DNA.
A friend who had retired from being a paramedic said to me recently, that it took him a long while but he know realizes he doesn't need a uniform to continue to serve his community or his peers. Of course not! Once a warrior, always a warrior. If you are destined to be a protector, you have been that way for a long time. You were a warrior before you put that uniform on and you will be long after you take it off. My friend now does amazing work within our community, he is a leader in the environment and is someone who I look up to. It doesn’t matter if you're on the clock, or getting a salary from the taxpayers. Deep down, you are a guardian angel, and when shit hits the proverbial fan people are going to be looking at you for direction, or clinging to your coat tails and praying for you to take them to the closest port amidst this storm that has unexpectedly crashed into their lives.
The quality of our societies these days affords us the ability to do practically whatever we want with our lives. You can create a billion dollar company, you can play professional sports, you can try to become the leader of a country or you can sit on your couch and buy and sell things online while watching Ellen. This is clearly the best time to be alive in history- as long as you didn’t have the unfortunate random luck to be born in the 3rd world. Most people now have many dreams and goals, they change as they get older or they grow and morph into bigger and grander things as they start to crush it. In my parents and grandparents generations, if you had a secure job, a home, a car and a family, you were set! You worked your ass off 9 to 5, saved up for retirement and then kicked up your feet once it was time and the kids were gone. Today this is not the case. The culture today is totally different. There is lifestyle designers, mini-retirements and nomadic people living out of trailers making 6 figure salaries with an iPhone, an internet connection and social media. Companies are struggling to find out how to get these millennial’s (1981-1997) to work from 9 to 5 everyday and how to stop them from quitting and running off on a year long mini retirement, or to take part in a internet startup. There are thousands of articles and YouTube videos of people talking about and trying to figure out how to ‘fix’ or change the millennial’s and their work habits. Stop. It’s not happening. Change happens, our culture has evolved, get over it, embrace it, or die. If you think the millennial’s are bad, just wait until my kids grow up. Generation Z isn’t going to give a sh*t about how you think working one job for their entire life is a good idea because they will have job security, or that you need to put in some time somewhere and earn those leadership positions. Or, that they are not ‘social’ enough because they spend 5 hours a day on their phones. They will just laugh, create a online company in which they will be the boss, and do so while cooperating with people from China, United States and virtual assistants in India. All this while on their phone will sitting on a plane heading for a vacation in Spain.
We are in the middle of this revolution right now, and it is the reason I have served with more people that have retired from the military than those who are ‘lifers’. Most have left to start their own businesses, went to work with a new startup or directly into a leadership position in a well established company. Just because we live in a time were most of our warriors don’t spend careers in the military doesn't mean we don't have the same amount of warriors in our culture anymore or that our culture is getting ‘soft’. It’s just the way things are. These men and women spent a few years in the military, served a tour or two in Afghanistan and now are the managers in the company you work for, are engaged in politics or they started their own company.
There are others too, those who didn’t serve. Deep down they feel it. There have been hundreds of young people in the West who have left everything they love and ventured to Iraq and Syria to fight evil. Some who did serve and retired, and some who are just civilians. These people are true warriors. Going to fight a war in an unknown country with unknown people and in unknown conditions takes a serious commitment and a level of courage that would be hard to match. My hat is off to these warriors. We all agree that the horrors of World War 2 should not be repeated, but there are only a select few who actually have the balls, female balls included, to step up and put in the work when it’s needed.
To my brother and sisters who have hung up their uniforms. You are still warriors. Follow your passion and continue to do what you do. There will be days when you miss it. But you have always been a wolf in sheeps clothing and you still are. People look to you for protection, leadership and guidance everyday and you probably don't even realize it. You are still being the protector and the leader in whatever environment you find yourselves in now. People know- even if it’s subconscious. Don’t get discouraged by the news and the thoughts of the society. If there is a terrorist attack in Toronto and the media labels it ‘mental illness’, who cares. If political rulings on Veteran and First Responder services doesn’t go the way you think it should or is taking to long, who cares. Now I’m not saying these things aren’t important, they are. But don’t let the shortfalls of others diminish your happiness or the pride you deserve from having served your country and community. We will keep working to fix the things that need fixing, we will never quit, obviously. But we see you out there, the community sees you. You have always been and always will be a warrior and leader. If the quiet balance of everyday life gets tossed upside down and things start going sideways in a hurry, people will be looking at you for answers, looking for a way out. Never stop thinking like a sheepdog, you are a protector of our people and our country, act accordingly.