A Crisis of Character

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I found this picture in an old email folder, it is my view of a valley from a sniper over watch position in Afghanistan, 2010.  I was going to post it as a Throwback Thursday, but the more I looked at the image, the more it got me thinking about the world of today, much more than the world of seven years ago.

Life is precious.  It should be protected at all costs.  Whether you agree with it, or despise it, sometimes that means taking the lives of others.  I am aware that the two proceeding sentences are at odds with one another.  Unfortunately, concepts and realities are often not parallel.  Please take my word that there are those who would destroy you, regardless of what your “you” is.  Those individuals are the vast statistical minority, but they can inflict damage and destruction well beyond their numbers.

There is a moral dilemma, burden, and cost to taking a life.  Regardless of what is portrayed in the movies, there is no one standing over your shoulder to tell you when you should pull the trigger, and when you should exercise restraint.  You alone stand for the actions you take, you alone bear the responsibility.  It can be the loneliest place on earth, especially when you are flirting with the boundaries of uncertainty.  In the wrong hands, weapons can be used for evil.  In the right hands, they can stop evil in its tracks.

You can choose not to pick up a weapon, burying your head in the sand, hoping that others will solve problems on your behalf.  This position allows you to judge without action, to sit on the sidelines and complain about the rules of a game, without actually playing in it.  When you stand behind those engaged in the fight, refusing to engage yourself, you rely on their sacrifice to keep you safe.

You can choose to hold the line, standing shoulder to shoulder, sharing the load and bearing the burden.  Men and women who make this choice have dedicated themselves to protecting those behind them, and will sacrifice themselves for the person on their left and right.  This decision requires the realization that there is more to life, and more to this world than “you.”

You can choose to stand in front of those who have weapons, despising what they stand for.  Although this may seem like the bravest position, it is far from it.  It is easy to destroy, it is easy to throw “stones.”  These people attack out of sense of entitlement, not purpose.  They are certain that “their” way is the only way.  These people often claim to be standing for a cause, but it is a façade, and behind it, they are standing for themselves, and their own self-interest.

It is easy to focus on the weapon, but you shouldn’t, it’s a distraction.  Take them away, the gun, the knife, the megaphone, and nothing changes.  A human being remains, stripped bare, to the essence, and only quality that matters, Character.  Those who would choose to run, will.  Those who would choose to hold the line, will hold the line.  Those who would choose to destroy, will stop at nothing.  Each of these individuals is defined by their character, not what they hold in their hands.

I believe we are witnessing a crisis of character in this country.  We have become a nation of “me,” instead of a society of “we.”  I see it on the news, where crowds of people choose to film with their phones, or stand by passively ignoring a situation, instead of stepping in to do the right thing.  I see it in our elected officials, the celebrities we worship, and everyone in between.  I see it on social media platforms, where individuals converse in a consequence free environment, using language that would not be tolerated in person.  I see it in daily personal interactions, where the gravitational center of the universe is the individual, with no concern, care, or thought given to how actions and words impact those around them.  You do not have to look far to find these things, and they are eroding the foundation of this country.

I would not be the man I am today if it were not for the examples others provided.  The examples started long before I joined the military, working in a physically challenging job with my father.  I learned the value of hard work, and the importance of deriving motivation and discipline from within.  I learned that no one owes me anything, that my success or failure rides on my shoulders alone, regardless of what happens to the world around me.  These lessons were reinforced throughout my military service, molding me into the soldier I would become.  It has always been, and remains to this day, my deepest fear that I would let down those who depend on me in moments that count.  That I would be the weak link.  It was the character of those around me that illuminated the path, setting the example I would follow to ensure that never happened.   They were there for me when I strayed, to help point me in the right direction, but I had to put the work in, they could not do it for me.

I was fortunate enough to spend my life surrounded by those that understood the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder.  I was raised to care more about the load of the person next to me than the weight bearing down on my own shoulders.  I was taught that it is my responsibility to stand for those who may be unable to stand for themselves.  I was taught to consider the consequences of my actions, on others, not just myself.  There is no instant gratification in that recipe, it is painful more often than comfortable, because it matters.

If you want to make a difference, you don’t need a gun, you need character.  If you claim to care about this country and the people around you, do something.  You don’t need a fancy job title or huge social media following, you need the conviction to do the right thing, to set the example.  Think before you speak.  Take a moment of reflection before you vomit something out on a social media platform.  Consider your actions.  If you see something that is wrong, do something about it.  Don’t bury your head in the sand in hopes that it will go away, it won’t.  Be a beacon, illuminate the path for others.

We have the most powerful weaponry in the world, but it cannot protect us.  We will be destroyed by our own lack of character, long before ordinance from a foreign country.

32 thoughts on “A Crisis of Character

  1. No truer words have been written. This gives me the motivation to press forward, knowing that there are others who feel the same way. It also gave me a moment of reflection, to remember all of you that had an impact on my character. I will continue to make it my mission to do more. Thanks for motivating me!

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  2. Andy,
    I need to thank you for your service and for sharing your wisdom and knowledge. Your messages have always come through at the perfect time for me.
    I hope your inspiration for this forum never fades.

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  3. Well written and true to the core.
    Personal responsibility is lacking in today’s society.
    Enjoyed and completely agree with the post…..

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  4. As always, a great article Andy. Introspection of one’s life, and the paths we choose (or not), can be sobering when we read, see, or hear of the selfless actions by our peers.

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  5. Your picture of the sniper rifle is spot on with your post. Today’s world has become myopic and only looking through the lens in front of their nose. It is forgetting that if you take a step back, or pull your head up, you will see a great, big beautiful world full of interesting and amazing people! I try to teach the values that you spoke of , not only with my words, but actions also.
    Thank you for your service and sacrifice so that many of us could do whatever it is we do. I enjoy reading your posts, and I look forward to more!

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  6. Another OUTSTANDING article. Keep them coming.

    On Apr 27, 2017 10:49 AM, “Confessions Of an Idiot” wrote:

    > andystumpf212 posted: ” I found this picture in an old email folder, it is > my view of a valley from a sniper over watch position in Afghanistan, > 2010. I was going to post it as a Throwback Thursday, but the more I > looked at the image, the more it got me thinking about the wor” >

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  7. You are right on. The news and entertainment mongers focus on the “me”s”. Life is more than me. I’m not the center of the universe. I achieve very little on my own. Together, with others, I can achieve great things and give the credit to the team. We have to stop turning away from what we know in our hearts is wrong and speak up before it’s too late to make a difference.

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  8. Yes, unfortunately, both America and Europe suffer from the same thing: people used to and want more and more of comfort, physical or psychological. Here, in Britain, I see people parking on double yellow lines (no parking because it will affect road traffic) just because they do not want to have a short walk from their car to a local shop. In discussions with my colleagues about various UK news, I saw that many of them expressed apathy and unwillingness or even fear of action in a situation that actually needs action. They rely on somebody else to solve the situation, sadly. However, on a positive note, I have witnessed people coming to help, doing at least something. It is a noticeable minority, though but I am glad it is still here and I am firmly within with minority. It seems that a crisis of character is caused by the very nature of comfortable life. This is a very worrying and dangerous tendency and personally I cannot think of a solution. There always be a minority who are able to “cut though” their comforts and act and I can only hope that this minority will not go to a very dangerously low number…

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  9. Thank you for this. So glad personal responsibility is still our goal as hard as it is. We all can stand up and do our part. I’m a retired teacher and volunteer now. I can’t do what you do, but what I can do to help others is my contribution to a better world.

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  10. Big Andy, you’re the fucking man! Thank you for writing this and the other articles! You’re an articulate dude and your perspective’s valued! Keep on writing brother, and don’t die in a squirrel suit! You’re too valuable!

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  11. It seems to me that people have come to equate permissiveness with freedom when they are in fact opposites. Permissiveness is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as an excess of freedom. It means doing whatever you want, whenever you want, without regard for the consequences to yourself or others. True freedom means allowing others the exact same rights you claim for yourself regardless of whether or not they think the same as you; it means not claiming that your rights are more important than the rights of those with differing opinions; and it means taking personal responsibility for your words and actions. If I choose to exercise my right to free speech, I must allow others to exercise the same without anger or retaliation. If I choose to exercise (or not to exercise) my right to worship God how I choose, I must allow others to exercise, if they so choose, the same right. If I choose to exercise my right to keep and bear arms, I must allow others to make, or not to make, the same choice. Anything else is not freedom.
    My rights cannot impinge on another person’s equally legitimate rights any more than their rights can impinge on mine. When that happens, someone’s rights are violated and that person is no longer free. This makes the “winner” into an oppressor. When two differing opinions come into conflict in this manner, the only solution is compromise and while that is far from easy for either party, it is necessary for freedom.
    If I choose to take my stand, with or without a weapon in my hands, with the men and women who stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of our freedoms, our families and our country, I cannot deny others the freedom to choose to stand behind us, nor can I deny them the freedom to say what they want to about me or my brothers and sisters. But when someone steps in front of me and picks up a stone to throw it at me or at one of my brothers or sisters, that person has stepped over the line from freedom to permissiveness. And permissiveness is nothing more than oppression masquerading as freedom. Attacking others, physically or verbally, because they think differently is not freedom, it is oppression. Preventing others from exercising their legitimate rights is not freedom but oppression. And far too many people-politicians, teachers, celebrities, as well as ordinary people on all sides of every issue-in this country have far too much permissiveness and not enough understanding of what true freedom is.
    True freedom will always require a sacrifice, and not necessarily in blood. True freedom requires that everyone place a little less emphasis on their own rights in order to allow their neighbor to exercise his or her equally legitimate rights. True freedom requires accountability from everyone, from the highest to the lowest, for their words and actions-or lack thereof. True freedom involves concepts like compromise and sharing and taking turns. And an absolute commitment to true freedom is the only hope this country or its citizens have.

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  12. Well written brother. HM2 USMC FMF Vietnam 1971-1973. Learned a lot during those times with a good work ethic and character developed as a kid from my mom and dad. Thanks

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  13. Stumbled across your Crisis of Character post rather indirectly. I’m sure I’m older than you and it was very inspiring to this guy of a certain age. Outstanding. Thank you.

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