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The Wuss Paradox

J. D. Pendry

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. - Joseph P. Kennedy (also attributed to Knute Rockne)

"Let me tell you. When I was young I had to walk 5 miles to school everyday - barefoot in the snow!"

"Oh yeah, well I had to do that too, but it was uphill - both ways!"

Did you ever have a conversation like that? You proudly proclaimed that life for you was tougher, even if you had to exaggerate a little. Tougher experiences made you a tougher person. One more prepared to deal with life's gut punches. If you've never been a party to such a conversation, you may be a victim of The Wuss Paradox.

When I was a SP4, an old soldier told me, "When I came in the Army they issued us brown boots with the rough side out. We had to take a piece of glass and scrape off the rough stuff, dye them black, then spit shine them." He told me that while looking with a certain degree of disgust at my less than highly shined boots. My goal from that point forward was to have better looking boots than his. Spit shining became my self-imposed standard because I refused to let him be tougher than me. That experience became one of many that I shared over my years as having it tougher. "When I was a young soldier the standard in garrison for boots was a spit-shine."

To soldiers, knowing (or at least proclaiming) we had it tougher gave us a feeling of mental, and depending on the boast, physical superiority. Most importantly, it gave us a mindset of toughness - an essential intangible when a soldier faces the realities of his profession.

Time has seen subtle changes to this toughness mindset. What I'm going to share with you is my theory on these changes. It is not based on any government-funded studies, scientific research, the findings of any panel appointed by the Secretary of Defense, nor the results of any sensing sessions or DoD sponsored surveys. With the bonafides out of the way, let me share with you The Wuss Paradox.

As stated at the beginning, most of us took pride in proclaiming our lives or situations as tougher than the next guy's. We never looked for anyone's pity because we wanted them to know that we had it tougher, therefore making us tougher. Enter the wuss.

Put on your critical thinking apparatus and listen. Nowadays there is a different mindset. Not too many years ago a soldier may have said, "When I went through basic training the Drill Sergeants were so tough that they would run us until we puked then make us do pushups in the puke!" That's changed. Now you're more likely to hear, "You had easy basic, you had stress cards and nice Drill Sergeants, no fair!" For many, bragging about how tough we had it changed to whining about how easy someone else had it - The Wuss Paradox. There's more. Males so proud of their masculinity and always looking for an opportunity to display it to the female of our species used to say this while sticking their chest out: "I can do a thousand pushups. I can run my two miles so fast that'll I'll be able to come back and inspire you to run your last mile faster." Now they say this, "I have to do a thousand pushups and you only have to do six. I have to run two miles in three minutes and you get to do it in twenty. No fair, waaah, waaah!"

I can't think of many situations today untouched by The Wuss Paradox. It shows its wimpy head whenever there is discussion around such things as single vs. married, male vs. female, TDA vs. TOE, combat arms vs. combat support, etc. ... What brought about this mental shift from warrior tough to whining wuss? When did we turn bragging about our tough situation into being a victim of it? To answer those questions I offer an observation to complete my theory.

The social issues of our time and our chosen methods of dealing with them - excessive sensitivity training and political correctness at all costs - makes it much more attractive to be a victim of life rather than a conqueror of it. Once this mindset is ingrained, people view themselves as victims of the tougher more demanding way of life required of soldiers instead of benefactors of it. Is this the mindset we want for soldiers? If it is, I suggest we change Mr. Kennedy's words to: When the going gets tough, become victims.

© 2000 J.D. Pendry