22 years ago this month I was in basic training. I am remembering on a particular day where I tried to tabulate the number of jumping jacks I performed that day. I lost track after 2,000. My mind simply hadn’t the energy to add or retain numbers at some point.

The reason I contemplate this memory today is because I remember the company commander’s declaration early in the process of induction disseminating the policies and procedures that he was bound by. So we would know what was right from wrong, that we should all always as a sailor be obligated to honor right over wrong. Stand up for ourselves, think for ourselves, honor ourselves, despite any order given in our Navy career. I respected the overall framework of these principles. I respected the concept that I was being trained and encouraged not to be an unquestioning drone.

The thing is though the commander’s rules laid out that he could not strike us (good), he could not ignore a chit (a formal written request) even if he later denied it. And, here’s the rub, ask us to do more than 80 jumping jacks in any PT (physical training) session. What I came to conclude later on was that though said limit was codified, defining what “is” a jumping jack and what “is” a single PT session was definable by the commander. So asking me to sing a silly song with 40 or so syllables, jumping and waving my arms on each constituted one jumping jack. And that 7am and 8am were distinct sessions. My point is not that the PT wasn’t necessary. That in retrospect, I was thankful for losing six inches off my waist without dropping a single pound in two months wasn’t one of the most profound wonderful outcomes in my young life.

My point is that it doesn’t matter what rules are codified by any government institution. The institution will do what it wills to accomplish what it perceives as its purpose. Examine that purpose. Question its purpose. Because if you disagree with that, allowing yourself to be placated by its self defined and even codified safeguards is meaningless.

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