When I was 13, I joined the U.S. Air Force. Sort of. Kind of. That is, my U.S. high school was one of those schools that had what’s called JROTC, or Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Because my home region in southern Virginia has a large military presence — naval shipyard, air force base, army training camps, and a whole host of others — many of my fellow classmates had family that was either in the military or working in related construction contracting.
I had my uniform. I earned my ribbons. I learned the drills and the skills of being in the U.S. armed forces, in one branch or another. I stayed in the program throughout high school and, to the delight of my high school colonel, I made it a priority for college. (Along with learning Russian, as I wrote about before.) While the interest in languages has obviously stayed with me, I’ve taken a far different path (and am much farther away) than my uniformed, teenage self could ever have imagined.
Still, there are ideas from those days that I continue to wrestle with.
Take discipline, for example. Unsurprisingly, much is made about the role of and need for discipline in the military. We kids of the region certainly heard about it then. And, if you read the literature on the program even now, there’s still more emphasis on the role of the program in instilling habits that respect orderliness, authority, and self-discipline than on its role as a feeder program for military recruitment.
Sure, I am away from all of that now. Have I given up on discipline? Can anyone who works with words ever really do so?
We Moravians love words. It’s not just the pleasure of word play, obviously. Mobile app translation does not give quite the same buzz as a Shakespearean play, banter with a keen wit, or a challenging game of Scrabble. But there’s something to be said about understanding (and loving) the discipline of conveying meaning.
There’s a joke that’s been floating around on the ‘net for few years now and it never ceases to make me giggle.
Let’s eat grandma.
Let’s eat, Grandma.
Punctuation saves lives!
Yes, it makes sense to obey the rules. Understanding the rules, structures, and patterns of one language helps us transform ideas into the rules, structures, and patterns of another. In that respect, there’s no shortcut to translation — no getting around the daily practice, repetition, and rule comprehension that will make it right. It’s a discipline we embrace because we know, in our hearts, that there are few other ways to show your appreciation for language than to do so.
Of course, knowing the rules means you can enjoy breaking them. When I LOL and CU L8r, I know what I’m doing and I enjoy it. Yes, yes, there are any number of professional writers bemoaning how texting and the ‘net are “killing” language. And, yes, yes, you can’t be in this industry without reading yet another pledge of quality assurance.
But there’s following the rules … and there’s the freedom of speeding by them and letting them choke on your dust. Got milk? Well, then you get what I mean here, language rules be damned.
The week ahead will give you opportunities for being made free by discipline and of being free of it. The chance to remember why orderliness, rules, and discipline can be the grease that makes the whole project machinery function without a hitch. And the chance to remember why “thinking outside of the box” is a rallying cry for work innovation.
Be grateful for the rules. Be the rebel that flaunts them. Win with both.