In 2006 officials at Her Majesty’s Prison Norwich, in Norfolk, England hired a local Shakespearean college professor, Jane Wirgman to instruct inmates.
Nothing unusual about that, except that her task was not to teach the prisoners the life and writings of William Shakespeare. Her mission was to teach them how to insult each other using Shakespearean quips. The prison employees grew sick of the level of profanity and vulgarity that belched from the inmates. So in order to “sweeten” it, Professor Wirgman instructed the prisoners to use phrases like “Thou odiferous stench” and “Thou crusty botch of nature.”
You know, it seems to me that Norwich Prison’s meager funds would have been better spent teaching its inmates not to insult at all. It would have been better to teach them to respect and get along with others. The tongue is capable of fashioning beautiful words, words that can encourage, inspire, and give life. Why not teach people to use their speech to bless others and build them up? Why operate from the assumption, “They’re going to insult each other anyway. So, why not make their language more stately—and witty?”
During a previous Whitehouse administration federal funds purchased and distributed condoms to millions of school-aged boys. It was based on the assumption, “Kids are going to be promiscuous anyway, so why not teach them to be safe about it?” Wouldn’t those taxpayer dollars have been better spent to teach teenagers to live responsibly, to respect others, and maybe to abstain from sex until marriage or until they’re committed to one person?
As a chaplain I learned to dread—and avoid—those “before the weekend” safety briefings from Commanders and First Sergeants (Senior NCOs). Why? I avoid them because they express the same mentality. “Servicemembers are going to live irresponsibly anyway, so let’s tell them to be safe about it.” So we tell them, “If you have sex, use protection.” Maybe it would be better to teach them that sex should go hand-in-hand with responsibility and commitment to one partner.
But don’t dare tell them to go to church or chapel on the weekends. That would be imposing someone else’s view of morality on our Soldiers. So we impose our own view of morality on them.
Check out any shoppette on base and you’ll see a manifestation of this same flawed assumption. Sometimes as much as two-thirds of the shelves in our Exchange shoppettes are stocked with alcohol. And what’s the message we’re sending? “Hey, servicemembers are going to get drunk anyway, so why not make it more accessible to them?” Why not teach our servicemembers that their money will be better utilized by putting it into a savings plan or invested in the market? Why not teach them there’s a better way to live?
The tragedy is that, most of these assumptions are wrong. Servicemembers will live up or down to whatever expectations we set for them.
The military recognizes that spirituality and faith are indispensable components of a ready and resilient force. Then why do we undermine this line of effort by setting such low expectations for our servicemembers?
The biblical prophet Hosea cried out, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). They traveled the path that led to destruction out of ignorance for the path that led to life.
Dear Father in heaven, please help and heal our military community. Please guard and protect every service member, civilian, and family member of our military community. Help us all to behave and live responsibly in our personal lives and to help and care for one another. Amen.