Part 2 of my reflections, this time round focusing more on my time as a trainer.
I have seen much darkness, and it can be overwhelming. I feel strongly about the way people are treated. For one, the amount of politics can be truly frightening. What can you expect I guess, when a good majority of the people don't even want to work and need not fear losing their paychecks, and the rest fight tooth and nail for their rankings in order to get their promotions.
Politics aside though, the one thing which really resonates in my heart is the cadets. I am thankful for my posting. It had placed me in a position where I was able to impact the lives of the cadets. Having went through the journey they are undertaking myself, I am able to relate to how they feel. I am placed in a unique position where I can identify with the feelings of all parties involved.
God has interestingly placed me in a location where despite changing teams so often, I never really met anyone else who really shared the burden upon my heart. I have only known two other God honouring Christian instructors. One of them I worked with in my first three months and I guess it helped me to not feel so alone in the initial parts when I was still new to everything. The other was the instructor who taught me, and he was a source of inspiration on how to best be a God honouring instructor in the way we treat the cadets.
They were both gone soon enough and for a good year I fought alone. It's one thing to be in the midst of the darkness, it's another to be the lone man fighting in it. I often felt the pressure of others trying to get me to conform but thankfully a repulsion within me towards these things keeps me from even being tempted. Still, even though I would never have taken the easy way out, it does make things a challenge and at times it can be really difficult.
One sad truth I came to recognise is that I really can't change this place. It's beyond my capabilities. Even if I were to give above and beyond my maximum, the darkness which permeates is too thick to be dispersed. Even the higher ups will have no say, for the root of the problem is much deeper. At the same time though, I realised that even if I cannot change this place, I can still be a light.
It is in the darkness which light is needed the most. And though one small little light cannot extinguish the darkness on its own, it still glows. It is seen, it reflects the glory of God. I believe that in my short stint, God has used me to bring the light of Christ into the hearts of some of my peers and my cadets. Seeds were sown, and I believe that God will give the growth.
Let me pick out and just elaborate on one aspect of this darkness, the mentalities of many people towards cadets. Honestly, a good amount of people I know fail to regard cadets as equal human beings. There's this prejudice towards cadets. The prejudice isn't entirely unjustified since yes many cadets are unmotivated and lacking in knowledge, but it is our responsibility to help them in those isn't it?
There's a great deal of dismissiveness and unjust treatment, and it really boils down to mentalities. Contradictory statements are all over the place really. Sometimes cadets may be accused to assuming things without clarifying. When words like 'I think' or 'I thought' are used, they are immediately blasted. Yet at the same time I've heard in almost equal amount accusations that cadets have no brain and no initiative. They are often placed in a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation.
The thing is, the commanders don't realise it. Many commanders and even instructors genuinely subscribe to the groupthink that 'cadets will be cadets' and assume the worst of them. There was this regular whom I personally worked quite closely with and he's a great guy. He really watches out for us and guides us along, but he has this major irrational hatred for cadets. It crazy because as I get to know him as a fellow instructor, I find him to be quite a respectable person, yet his irrational belief is buried so deeply in his being and as a result he really did make life hell for them. It's extremely saddening because I know deep in his heart he isn't a bad person, but I don't know what I can do to help him.
So I've been told all sorts of things about how to handle cadets. Hit them hard, make them fear you, if you go soft on them they will climb over your head, they will backstab you. That seems to be the general consensus. Except I refused to conform and I have taken five batches and never been taken advantage of by my cadets. I have been questioned numerous times about why I don't seem to punish my cadets or scream at them. I don't recall that being part of my job scope. I'm hear to teach, not make lives miserable.
They listen to me precisely because I listen to them. It reminds me of an article I read about the greatest impact which teachers make in schools is not their teaching but their being. This is the same way I feel about the job of instructors. Students remember teachers for being there. The best teachers are the ones who inspire students to desire to do well. Fear merely brings people against their will to uphold a certain minimum standard, but if their hearts are not in it, it doesn't develop into something long lasting.
Ultimately I do not desire to train people to become good soldiers. I desire to train people to become good people, people who just happen to have good soldering skills. I am thankful for real leadership I have learnt from my time in school and from a select few people in NS. It is unfortunate though that quite a substantial majority subscribe to a terrible belief system, and it seems like it is not changing anytime soon.
One of the things that NS really takes away from you is time. Yes studies takes away your time too, but it's more flexible and doesn't force you to stay in camp (full time job though hmm). I'm not complaining though, I'll have to say it's a trade off. One thing I really appreciate about NS is the fact that there isn't any homework and time off is really time off.
One thing NS really challenged me to make the best of this limited resource of time. There's only that much time I can spend out of camp, so I need to make choices wisely. Do I meet friends for dinner? Do I go home and spend some time with family and just chill? Do I stay in camp to get more rest? What about things like driving lessons? Then there's the matter of the spaces of leisure time in camp. How can I maximize the use of this time, especially since I don't have the liberty to do whatever I want?
I'm going to talk briefly about something not everyone will understand for awhile now so just roll along with me first. I often jokingly use a dominion analogy for time and life but in all seriousness its quite true. One of the things you eventually learn as you play more of dominion is that with the exception of curses, all dominion cards are good. Starting estates are valuable as victory points, coppers as your most basic economy. Yet you thrash these cards as soon as you can because while all cards are good, estates are good only at the right time, coppers are good things that are bad in excess and in the abundance of better things.
Taking it to an even higher level, even good expensive cards may not necessary good buys in a particular situation because of the opportunity cost. Cartographer is a cantrip which certainly can't hurt your deck, but if getting a cartographer means missing out on gaining a witch instead, then it should be considered more carefully. Terminal actions are much stronger than their non terminal counterparts, but too many terminals will collide and render them useless. What I'm trying to say is, life is like that. There are many things which aren't inherently bad in and of itself, but there's a need to thin the deck of our lives. We don't just clear the junk, we need to make space for the things which are truly valuable.
For those who didn't really understand the dominion terminologies, I hope you can still follow what I speak about opportunity costs and making space for what's valuable. The thing about making space though is that I find it so easy to talk about but so incredibly difficult to execute. It's a good thing then that NS challenges me in this. I find that all these restrictions have helped me to refine my ideas about what is truly important to me and what are things that while nice to have are not absolutely fundamental. It's still a daily challenge and I'm finding the old disease creep back into me now that I have a relative abundance of free time once again, but it has helped put things in perspective and I believe that is something which will stay with me.
On time, there's this other thing about NS taking away our time and how it makes us feel. This is another huge lesson for me during my stint in NS which have made me reflect deeply. I tend to become very upset when my nicely scheduled plans get ruined by last minute changes, especially if they are a result of ineptitude or selfishness of others. C.S Lewis has something to say about that though (you can read it here), and it is very humbling indeed. I'm still learning to apply this in my life, and I must say it's not easy.
Over the two years I have met many people. When I was in BMT, I add my entire section as friends on facebook and quite a number from my platoon. We split ways after two months and many of us never spoke again. Another two months in foundation term, then another three in professional term. People just come and go. Even after I became an instructor, my team changes every three months. The longest people I ever worked with was nine months and they were regulars whom I never really had a close working relationship with.
In army because of the sheer amount of time we spend with one another and the things we go through together, we become quite chummy. Yet because of the high turnover rate and how we really are hardly connected by anything else, once we aren't working together anymore then that relationship just doesn't last. It doesn't fall apart or anything like that, it just gradually fades away and the new people take the place of those who have left.
All the same, I am thankful for all those lives I have crossed paths and fought side by side. These people were the ones who made everything better when we were going through tough times. The best memories I will have of these two years are the ones forged together with them. I always thought that shallow acquaintances are worthless relationships, and while I still regard them as nowhere near the importance of friendships which last, I have come to appreciate the dash of flavour it brings into our lives.
It's also in times like these that once again I come to better appreciate the beauty of true friendships. There are people with whom we have gone our 'separate ways' since graduating from school, yet even if we don't always see each other or talk on a very regular basis, there is no hesitation in knowing that we are friends. These are people I know I can comfortably share my life freely with, that I know I can depend upon.
Then of course there are the people who have never left my side through these two years. They are truly treasures more precious than anything else in this world. Though our lives will continue to accelerate and bring us to different places, I am confident that the bonds we have forged will last. I am thankful for friends who are like family to me.
People used to tell me the two years will pass by quickly, and now that it has come to an end they tell me 'wow that felt so fast'. No it wasn't. It was two long draggy years. Don't listen to those who tell you it passes by quickly, because it doesn't.
Was it a total waste of time though? There's this thing in me which wants to say that it was. After all, NS wasn't exactly the most pleasant experience. Many times I felt myself wishing I wasn't serving, each day just counting down to when I would ORD. All the restrictions on my time, the politics, the darkness, it wasn't the life that I wanted.
I can't say it was though. Despite everything (or rather precisely because of everything), I have gained invaluable experiences. These experiences have shaped me to become a better man. People often refer to NS as a rite of passage to adulthood, and while I would disagree that NS in and of itself does that, I must say that it created an environment which has better prepared me to face the future.
I would wish there had been some other way I could have learnt these life lessons without going through NS, and if there is, yes NS would have been a total waste of time. I must say though, I doubt it could have happened any other way. So as much as I hate to admit it, yes NS has been a time of growing, strengthening and sharpening myself. It was an important process which has matured me. Like ores refined in the furnace, through the fire we emerge as gold.