Oh the “System”

Army, Chaplaincy

The System. 

Oh, the system. 

It gets blamed for failure. Gets marginalized for successes. Has to feel the weight of all the anger when someone, somewhere, points to it and says, “we could, but the system won’t let us…”

Or words to that effect. 

Here’s the thing: We are the system

Put bluntly, I am the system, you are the system. The system changes when we change. We make it change. We make it what we want it to be. That’s how systems work. 

I’m not saying it’s easy or even worth it, but it is still true. 

Especially in the Army. Every Chaplain that now serves in a leadership position once sat where I sit, a student at the Advanced Course. Every senior leader in the Army was once a Captain looking at Major with their operational days largely behind them and a decade or two left of staff functioning ensuring the capability of the operational Army. Every single one.

The system they operate is one they inherited but it is not static. It moves. It breathes. It changes as those who work within in do the same. I am continually inspired by leaders who own the system. For them, it moves from, “the system” to “MY system.” Once a leader owns this, positive change happens. When they speak, I get chills down my spine and am excited, honored, and thrilled to serve under them. 

I once served a chief of staff who would constanly encourage us to think differently about the orginization in which we served. Over and over he would say that this was our unit, these were our rules and we could (and were empowered to do so) think creativly about how it could be better.

Because when we are better, the unit we serve is better, our charges are better and our country is a better place.

There are always reasons why we “can’t” do something:

“We can’t mix colored and white troops!”

“We can’t have Humanist chaplains!”

“We can’t allow gay Soldiers to serve openly!” 

“We can’t let…”

Always the “system” can’t do it. The sky will fall. The world will come crashing down around us. All the chaplains will quit, all the Soldiers will go home, combat effectiveness will be crushed… 

On and on it goes. We can’t change because the system will not tolerate change. But again, WE are the system. When we say that the system will not tolerate change, what we are saying is that WE will not tolerate change. 

The most effective leaders look at their world differently – they see the world through the lense of what they can do to make it better. 

Being a change agent takes courage. I’ve seen a few chaplains recently who have given me courage. I’ve been inspired because they did not accept the status quo. They looked at the world around them, the “system” and said, “I know we can do better.” And then set out to change the little world they live in. Like me, at the prison, they influenced their world and thus impacted “the system.” 

What an exciting time to be a chaplain in the US Army! 

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