Part of the leadership training I help provide to mid-grade Air Force and other budding leaders is a lesson on introspection. In the course of this class, we discuss the importance of knowing one’s self, and techniques that can be used to increase self-knowledge. Introspection isn’t easy, but it’s highly necessary, especially in any position where a leader might encounter uncomfortable and unpredictable situations. In such endeavors, the only thing a person might be able to control is their own person, and their reactions to what chaos is happening around them. While you may never know how you’ll feel when the shit hits the fan (a disconcerting notion), through self study you improve your ability to observe changes in yourself, and thus your ability to self-correct away from a dangerous or exacerbating decision.
Journaling, the recording of personal thoughts, is a time-tested tool in the pursuit of gaining insight. We don’t mandate prayer, meditation, living in a cabin in the woods for a year, or any of the other techniques that arise in the discussion, but we do ask for each student to write at least twice a week, and submit those journals. I make a covenant with my students: since I’ll be reading their inner-most thoughts, they get to read mine as well. I allow one free-write journal, but I use the other one as a tool to further learning, especially on topics about which we have to cut the discussion short (there are only so many useful hours in a classroom). This means, I write the same journals as my students, and I offer to let them read mine if they ask. Usually they don’t, but I’m always ready if they do.
This week, I asked my class to consider the implications of a war in space, through the lens of their own lives. “Imagining you are at your home station, what would you do if a war broke out in space tomorrow?” Many of their jobs require them to use space based assets on the regular, but I wanted them to imagine the personal impact of such an event. I usually ask my classes to imagine at least one post-apocalyptic scenario, whether it is their actions on a 3rd day without power, the detonation of an EMP device in the atmosphere over the USA, the zombie apocalypse, or the realization that the earth is actually flat – and I frequently get very imaginative answers. My answer to these questions doesn’t change much, despite the varied scenarios. Here it is.
I start with my family. I explain to them that things are never going to be the same, but that it’s going to be ok. We are going to have to be patient with each other, and ourselves, because the paradigm has fundamentally shifted. We are going to keep our heads, and make good choices. We are going to survive. This means not only sticking together ourselves, but banding together with other people – it’s what humans do.
Assuming the car won’t start, and we don’t have a pre-existing, self sustaining community nearby, we are going to have to start one ourselves. So, I go to the neighbors. I talk to all of them individually, and explain that I can help them through the times ahead, because I’ve been developing skills that may come in handy now. I can help them purify water. I can teach them how to plant food, help it grow, and preserve it. I can show them basic defense skills. I have experience with off-the-grid living arrangements. I can help people come together, and use teamwork to overcome difficult situations. I invite them to a meeting later on to talk with other neighbors about how we are going to handle this situation as a group.
We have our meeting mid day, or whenever the weather is best. I’ll have it at my place. During the gathering, we introduce members of the neighborhood to those they haven’t yet met. We discuss our various useful skills, and any relevant experience we have. We’ll need carpenters, gardeners, teachers, childcare providers, cooks, and lots of willing hands to get us going as a community. We take stock of what we already have, in the way of materials, tools that will work, weapons, and fixtures that may come in useful (greenhouses, pools, cellars, fields, etc). We leave with an understanding of our neighbors, and a plan to increase our survival ability.
Work begins the next day, as we fortify our community, liberating as much available labor as possible by leaving the cooking and childcare in the hands of a capable few, and dispatching a small look-out party to patrol, and make contact with anyone we haven’t yet found who may need help.
We have lots to do – soil to prep, houses to retrofit, wood to gather, water purification systems to build, sanitation systems to modify, and esprit de corps to improve. If we stick together, we can do it, as people always have.