Hello, Old Friends

I’ve recently spent 9 months living out of suitcases and boxes, moving from place to place. I didn’t have a kitchen for 6 months. I couldn’t work at home. It’s caused inconvenience and frustration and stress.

But, all things end, and so did this, and in the process of unpacking and settling down, I rediscovered old friends - my books.

I don’t mean this discovery in the sense of reading. I’ve continued to read everyday. No, in this case, I mean re-discovering the old friends I’ve collected over the years. Most I’ve read. Some I’ve not. But, in every case, I recall what the book taught me, or where I purchased it, or who gave it to me. These are the joys of old friends.

One book, Rifleman Dodd, emerged from an old, dusty box. The text itself is not as important as the inscription inside its cover and the occasion I received it. “New, now it is time for you to be a leader of Marines. -SSGT Burns.” My senior drill instructor gave it to me August 9, 1996, the day before I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp, Parris Island.

As you might imagine, “kindness” is not a requirement for Marine Corps drill instructors.

Staff Sergeant Burns did not give me a gift out of the kindness of his heart. As you might imagine, “kindness” is not a requirement for Marine Corps drill instructors. Instead, the Commandant, the head general for the USMC, had created the Commandant’s reading list for all Marines of all ranks. The Commandant had assigned Rifleman Dodd to privates.

In the twenty plus years I’ve worked in the professional world, no organization I know personally spends more time on learning than the US military. I’ve worked for technology companies and schools, and ironically enough, the one with the most rigidity, the one with the most hierarchy, the one with the most people of divergent educational backgrounds spends the most time and energy on how to teach and how to learn.

Why would an organization dedicated to fighting spend so much time and resources on education? Why does the GI Bill even exist? Why do many senior officers and enlisted have multiple graduate degrees, including doctorates?

Of course, these questions have simple and complex answers, but everyday the US military whether in training or in combat must operate as an optimum learning organization because the consequences of failed activity can be so dire. That’s not to say failure doesn’t happen, but every action must be instructive and prevented in the future. The private as well as the general bears some, albeit different, levels of responsibility for actions gone wrong.

That type of focus on learning, though, does not explain the creation of the Commandant’s reading list. If examined, you will see the list really promotes the growth of the mind as the Marine progresses through his or her career. As a Marine gains higher rank and responsibility, the decisions matter so much more, and a well-read leader has more historical and philosophical information on which to base decisions.

The Marine Corps’ focus on reading is also about what happens after active duty has ended.

But, not every Marine makes it a career, so in truth, the Marine Corps’ focus on reading is also about what happens after active duty has ended. The Marine Corps, in this sense, wants an educated person to re-enter civilian life.

Reading books is often subject to legions of nostalgic people citing evidence of the decline of reading. I’m not sure that’s true. I do know, however, to thrive we must learn, and to learn, we must read. When I look at my old friends, unpacked now and heading back to the shelves, I am thankful for what they have taught me in the past and what they will teach me in the future.

Thank you for reading. Please take a moment, find and old friend, and read it, either again or for the first time. You’ll be glad you did.

Next post: What reading and the Marine Corps taught me about writing.

Mason New is the founder of NewVia, LLC, an instructional design firm that focuses on helping organizations help their best people grow and learn. Visit the website at https://newviadesign.com/ and contact him at Mason@Newviadesign.com

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