All I needed to learn I learned on Parris Island

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest columnist

Many of you may have read the book by Robert Fulgham titled, “All I needed to Learn I Learned in Kindergarten.”

In the book, the author applies the lessons he learned in kindergarten to everyday life as an adult. Since all I recall from kindergarten are pancakes, my steel Incredible Hulk lunch box, and my uncle picking me up in his baby blue 1975 Cutlass, I’ll have to defer to another growth period in my life for lessons learned.

I rode a bus to Parris Island, S.C., two months before my 18th birthday to learn how to be a Marine. I was no different than any other 17-year-old. I knew everything. They told me different, and what I learned there still applies to everyday life.

1. We’re all in this together. If we didn’t work together as a platoon, we failed, and we were disciplined for that failure. It doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest, smartest, or richest; we all have to share the air we breathe, the roads we travel, and the costs of crime.

2. We’re all equal, but we’re not the same. We were told the first day that we were all equal and that there was no race or social status and we would work together. We were only as strong as our weakest man. We must work as a community, not as individuals.

3. Discipline. That word has many applications. You dare not swat at a sand flea and if you sprain an ankle, you tie your boot tighter and you’ll be fine. If you fall, get back up and learn the reason you fell, so you can prevent it from happening again. I am not just talking about a physical fall. Mistakes happen. Correct the mistake and move on.

4. Focus on today. Yesterday was tough and tomorrow may be tougher, but you are here today.

5. Two minutes is longer than you think. When they put us in a small 6-foot by 6-foot boxing ring, there was nothing else to do but fight your opponent. If you went strong for the whole match, you would expend all your energy and be worthless several matches later. Pace yourself, avoid burnout, and watch those blindside punches in life.

6. Call your mother. Three months was an eternity when I was 17. Although I didn’t think about calling my Nanny then, I’d do anything for one call today. You’ll want your children to call you one day.

7. A core value of a Marine is honor. Honor guides Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior; to never lie, cheat or steal, and to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; respect human dignity; and respect others. If our children were taught this (and they applied it as they grew), we would need no more prisons.

8. Find “it” and use “it.” You would be amazed at what the human body is capable of overcoming. We’re at the top of the food chain for a reason. We all have that one thing on the inside that will make you continue, even when you think you can’t go anymore; you just have to know what “it” is.

9. Every day at Parris Island was one less day at Parris Island. We knew the day we would graduate, focused on that short-term goal, and applied all our energy to achieve that goal. You can’t save the world, but applying your talents to the many non-profit organizations in Shelby County is a start.

10. There is no escape. We had several people try to escape from our platoon while I was at Parris Island. None were successful and were brought back only for all of us to be punished. You can’t run from your problems, and if you are a parent, there are no escapes. Deal with your problems one at a time and enjoy what you were responsible for bringing into the world.

Anyone can share similar rules of life in a different perspective. That perspective may be from kindergarten, military service, farming, teaching, or being a stay-at-home mom. The important part is that you remember that we’re all in this together.

Chris George is the commander of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division.