In 1999, I was in the United States Marine Corps Recruit Training (otherwise known as boot camp) at Parris Island, SC. (try our cpi training online or our crisis intervention certificate) It was one of the best times of my life. No kidding. It was. All the Devil Dogs would agree it was one of the best times of all our lives, but most would never want to go through that hell again. One of the things I’ll never forget are my drill instructors.
Imagine getting yelled at just like you see in the movies. In your face, inches away, with small pieces of spit landing on your face. Overwhelming, loud, terrifying. You cannot move, you cannot bat an eye, you cannot respond, you cannot wipe the spit off. Doing so would bring about severe punishment. You have to simply stand there and take it. On one particular occasion, it was really getting to me. I was getting pissed off, I was getting really overwhelmed. I was getting yelled at by 3 Drill Instructors at once. I’d done something wrong apparently, or I’d screwed up something, who knows? Maybe I hadn’t done a push-up good enough, or whatever it was at the time, and they were screaming at me. I just remember hearing over and over, “Go ahead, lose your bearing, too, King, just lose your bearing. Go ahead! Go ahead!” It was all I could do to keep it together and not allow my frustration to be visible.
I’m standing there, at attention, straight, locked, no movement, and my eyes looking straight ahead. (In case you don’t know, you never look a drill instructor in the eye. Looking a drill instructor in the eye would be like staring at a police K9. Stare at one of those German Shepherds, right in the eyes, and see what happens.) They tell you staring like that is a sign of aggression, and it is the same with drill instructors. You never could look them in the eye, you had to just look straight ahead. So, they would say things like, “Don’t lose your bearing,” or challenge us to “Go ahead, lose your bearing!” They were waiting to see you show some sort of emotion—an eye roll or a deep breath, for example–to show they were getting to you. So, they would yell, “Lose your bearing, too! lose your bearing!” If you succumbed to it, all hell would break loose, and you would risk not only getting violent consequences, but days of physical conditioning punishment (push ups, sit-ups, etc.) for hours. What they were trying to instill in us was that, no matter what was going on around us, we were not to lose control. Don’t let them see you sweat. Don’t lose your bearing. Maintain control of your emotions. Don’t let someone pull you off your foundation.
There is nothing worse than dealing with a crisis situation, losing control, and having that person see that you’re losing it. They see that they are pulling you out of balance, and now can gain power over you. I’m not asking you to be a robot like a recruit must be. I’m not asking you to stand there staring at the person in crisis, with a blank stare and no sign of emotion, empathy, or facial expression. What I am asking you to do is to outwardly demonstrate that you’re calm, cool, and collected, even though internally you may be in chaos.
Show you are focused, show that you know what you’re supposed to be doing, and demonstrate that you’re doing the best job you can. Lastly, don’t forget to keep your bearing.