Sunday, January 10, 2010

Military Mussar: Accountability in the Ranks

I believe that the greatest danger in the life of a unit is to lapse into self-satisfaction. I would like the men of this battalion always to be a bit worried—perhaps there is something else we might have done, something we might have improved and didn’t.
Yoni Netanyahu, May 14 1975

At the close of Gadna, the pre-military program I attended last September, my mifakedet (female commander) left me with some final words of wisdom. Few soldiers entering the army are capable of asking unpopular questions and raising unconventional ideas. Do not abandon your critical voice, she added, because we need it. Ten years to the day I was born, Yoni shared a similar message with the men under his command. Like the Mussar masters of old, Yoni's message is that introspection and accountability are the tools of improvement. My own training reflects this ethic, with numerous examples from our training regimen.

No one in my unit is allowed to go to sleep at night until they complete an unusual evening ritual. My fellow soldiers and I are under orders to write down in a faded journal our daily errors and how we can make sure they never happen again. Thanks to this exercise, the last thing we do before falling asleep is spend several minutes reflecting on our daily behavior. The timing seems designed to draft our very dreams into our training regimen. Whatever the intent, our commanders take the nightly ritual very seriously. They have no problem calling a guy to task, asking him in front of the entire platoon why he is not displaying more accountability in what he writes.

Public discussions of this sort take place at the end of every week. No matter what we have accomplished, the entire platoon sits down to review the week and voice constructive criticism. While many guys often have little to say, there are always a few brave souls that raise compelling concerns with our commander. After all the grunts have had their say, our senior officer invites his three assistants to speak and then closes the discussion by touching on a few comments and adding some of his own.

These sessions are a highlight of our training, providing a rare open space for sharing with those above us and around us what is on our minds. Of course, the presence of our officers means that few guys really voice their true opinions. Judge not lest ye be judged, with judgment understood as sincere criticism, seems to unfortunately be the mantra among my peers. I myself prefer the words of Yoni to Jesus as a moral guide towards self/group improvement. Never accept results that are less than the best possible, Yoni once said. And even then look for ways to improve and perfect them.

1 comment:

  1. wow, what a philosophical way to look at what's actually a stupid, mundane practice. It sounds great in English; in Hebrew it sounds as dumb and unimportant as it is "fahkim."

    The point of this is to make soldiers subservient to commanders, not anything more.