Admiral McRaven’s book is an easy read, filled with anecdotes, but which describes the psychological and physical training endured to become part of the US Navy SEALs. Although the US military is not without scandal and public criticisms of some of its members, I think however, Navy SEAL training as described by Admiral McRaven could also illuminate the difference in education between men and women as a larger aspect of society. In the Navy SEALs, men are taught to be mentally strong, to endure harsh criticism, to face tough odds, to be calm under pressure, to work as a team. Could it be that generally, women give up too easily? Are women taught to quit when under pressure or when there is an obstacle or looming thoughts of failure? Are women taught to quit just because life isn’t fair?
“Gentlemen,” he began. “Today is the first day of SEAL training. For the next six months you will undergo the toughest course of instruction in the United States military.”...The instructor continued. “You will be tested like no time in your life.” Pausing, he looked around the class of new “tadpoles.” “Most of you will not make it through. I will see to that.” He smiled. “I will do everything in my power to make you quit!” He emphasized the last three words. “I will harass you unmercifully. I will embarrass you in front of your teammates. I will push you beyond your limits.”
(Excerpt From: Admiral William H. McRaven. “Make Your Bed”, 2017.)
Certainly, not all of us would have the physical strength and endurance to undergo harsh climates, extreme temperatures nor would be inclined to swim in the ocean filled with sharks, but I think the psychological training of Navy SEALs could be beneficial in the education of both men and women, in order to become mentally strong, to not falter at the first sign of defeat, to be able to endure harsh criticism without losing faith in our goals.
Sheryl Sandberg gave a Ted Talk a few years ago on Why There Are Too Few Women Leaders. And in her talk, the answer was simple, women quit. Women leave their jobs when things become competitive, women decide to take on less responsibility when undergoing personal challenges, women simply decide to quit.
Video excerpted from Admiral McRaven's 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, Austin. For his full address see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaQZFhrW0fU
In Admiral McRaven’s book, the only men who make it through to become Navy SEALs, do so because they don’t quit. He writes that it was important to respect everyone, and this could certainly apply in our current technocratic society filled with many class divisions. Everyone comes from a different background and may have valuable experiences or skills that could complement our own. Admiral McRaven writes, “Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up...then you can change your life for the better.”
Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls refers to the church bells ringing when a person died during the Spanish Civil War. In a parallel ideology, Admiral McRaven describes a large brass bell in the middle of the square that a new recruit could ring 3 times if he decided to give up on his training. It meant that he no longer had to wake up at 5 am, undergo physical training, obstacles, mental strength training and he could go back to his normal life. Ringing the bell meant giving up, but he said that most people who had rung the bell would regret it for the rest of their lives.
I recently wrote an article about how eighteen women in the UK Parliament had decided not to run again due to media and personal harassment that they had undergone as MPs. Certainly we cannot judge those decisions made by those women, as we do not fully understand their personal circumstances. However, would those women regret their choices later in life?
In his book, Make Your Bed, Admiral McRaven also goes into detail about his parachuting accident which left him seriously injured and bedridden for several months, in which took a long time for him to recover. At the time, he had thought his military career would be over, and he went into a self-pitying phase, but through the support of his friends and family, he had made a full recovery and would eventually move on to become a two-star Admiral. He writes that making one’s bed every day, to pay attention to the little things, to set a task for oneself each day helps in achieving the larger goals, but it was also important to surround yourself with people who also want to help you achieve your goals, because one couldn’t do it by himself or herself alone.
Despite the numerous worries and injustices that might plague many of us, I think this Thanksgiving, we should be grateful for the little things, and indeed be responsible enough to make our own beds every day.
By Sierra Choi