– Michael Burke
Recently I was posed with the question: What is the role of the Exemplar in modern society? In answer to this I first asked myself a question I often ask: Why do I train?
Delving into the personal motivations behind anything is always a good starting point. The short answer to the second question is: To put steel on target. But why? Well, certainly not for selfish personal gain or other villainy. Robbing banks doesn’t appeal to me nor is merely being a mercenary, whose only obligation is to the paymaster.
If those choices are categorically out then the only remaining one is the other oriented path of the modern warrior best described as an Exemplar. It was remarked to me once that institutions like the Marine Corps do not produce a certain type of individual so much as attract a certain type. I would go so far as to suggest other action biased occupations attract that type as well.
So, what is the Exemplar’s role in modern society?
I often lament that in the 21st Century there are no heroes. On television and in movies the anti-hero trope has become so corrupted that now villains are the heroes. Batman is a psychopath, people openly admire Walter White, every character who shows any nobility or virtue dies horribly on Game of Thrones. Tune in any news station and it is a highlight reel of a decided lack of integrity or any moral compass. These examples horrify me.
When my troops find themselves frustrated with a military institution they perceive as hypocritical and even outright stupid, I remind them that each of us has a sphere of influence with which to impact those around us. As a SgtMaj my sphere is somewhat larger than a Sgt’s but everyone has bit of influence nonetheless. Within that sphere each Marine can make the Corps what it is supposed to be and make a positive impact.
I was once pulled aside by an officer who told me he’d just overheard the best compliment ever given by one Marine about another. He had seen me walking through the chow hall and as I passed by one of the young Marines remarked: “If every Marine was like that guy, I’d reenlist right now.”
In our respective communities we should be making a similar impact as an Exemplar. Do others admire who we are? Do they follow our example? Do they perceive nobility and leadership or a self interested, ignoble bully? Which do we wish to be perceived as? Which do we wish to actually be?
My wife once remarked to me that she’s always felt safe in my presence. Another time a civilian friend told me I had an air of confidence that radiated: “Not to be f*#-ed with.” Once I was doing an interview with a newspaper reporter when he suddenly blurted: “You’re a hard man.” I laughed at him, to which he replied: “No, you’re friendly and smile a lot, but there’s something around the eyes.” How do other people feel when they are around us? Safe? Intimidated?
I submit our role in modern society is to be an example to our community. This doesn’t require us to run for mayor but to be cognizant of our impact on those around us. It also doesn’t require mean mugging everyone when we enter a room. The Exemplar knows what he is capable of and often our mere presence is enough to prevent criminal knavery without affective posturing.
On our promotion warrants in the Marine Corps there is a sentence charging the Marine to be the embodiment of our institutional core values of honor, courage, and commitment. As an Exemplar, we should each be a living example of the enduring fabric of what we are trying to become as 21st Century warriors.
Exemplar, what a great word.