I pride myself on the fact that no matter what I’m reading I try to learn something. Is that an arrogant statement to make? Maybe… but recently I was reading a book I certainly didn’t expect to learn anything ground-shaking from. The books is titled “HALO: The Fall of Reach” and it’s essentially a novelized prequel meant to support the popular X-Box game, HALO. I have two sons who both enjoy video games and I won’t let the younger one play anything I haven’t approved first. Sometimes that depends on what the older one tells me; sometimes I have to learn for myself.
To appreciate what I learned you need to understand the basic premise: in HALO the year is in the 2500s (2517 – 2552). Humanity has spread out among the stars and all of the space protection / exploration is handled by a military branch of service modeled on the contemporary Navy model. Within this structure, just like today, there are civilian scientists working on military projects. The focus of the storyline, and the heroes of the book, is the Spartans. These hand-picked, trained throughout their life, cybernetically enhanced warriors become the elite of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC).
The leader of the Spartans is named John, formally designated Spartan 117. Due to his nature leadership characteristics – specifically his refusal to leave a team member behind when there was no reason to do so – he was put in charge of the Spartans. As he continues to be trained; to learn; to grow into the position, a Chief Petty Officer named Mendez teaches him an interesting lesson: He teaches John/Spartan 117 that there is a difference between wasting lives and spending lives. CPS Mendez explains that a good military leader must be willing to spend the lives of his troops but never to waste them.
That seems easy enough to understand. Those veterans who are reading this may well understand though that it isn’t easy at all to spend lives. Inevitably those lives you can spend are those lives you are most hesitant to sacrifice. They are people you’ve trained with; lived with; fought with; survived with; eaten with; played with; shared memories with. They aren’t just a life to be spent, but are a lifetime of memories sacrificed… spent for a greater good.
For all my time in the Army and my additional decades in a police uniform this wasn’t a philosophy I’d ever heard articulated in that particular fashion. It settled into me and grumbled around. Wasted lives versus spent lives. How much grief and aggravation, I wondered, would our military leaders and politicians avoid if they could simply explain this concept to those who don’t believe in war: lives that are spent for a greater good aren’t wasted. There is a distinct difference.
In the book there comes a point where John/Spartan 117 is put in a position where he knows he’s going to lose one of his men. The circumstances are simple. The mission has been accomplished. The Spartan team now has to escape through space to a getaway ship. The problem is twofold: 1) they need a distraction, and 2) the space suit on one of his men has been damaged beyond repair. The Spartan has been wounded and only a fairly timely evacuation is going to save his life. Reality is that he’s more than likely going to die. He can just lay down and wait for it or he can try to accomplish something on his way out of this world. His life can be wasted… or it can be spent. The obvious and practical solution is to allow that man to stay behind to create the distraction. The Spartan’s life is SPENT to gain the other Spartans escape time.
This seemed particularly poignant to me given that throughout the history of theUnited States military service men and women have made sacrifices for the greater good of our country. They have spent their lives performing their duty and sometimes given their lives to accomplish a task. No matter how you look at it though, those veterans didn’t WASTE their lives. Their leadership, hopefully, didn’t waste any lives either. It is a reality of military service that sometimes lives must be spent, but it is probably the ultimate sin for a military leader to waste the lives of those under his command.
Then it occurred to me that this philosophy can be applied to many other things in our lives: time, money, energy…
While I was reading this book, purely for recreation, was I wasting time or spending time? Had I learned nothing; had I come away from the book with exactly what I’d started reading with – then I’d have wasted time. However, if I learned something important; if I learned more about the games my children play; if I learned that there are interesting and complex lessons about life that can be learned in this particular book and game – then I spent time; and it was time well spent.
I know plenty of people who claim to spend time worrying about various things. Most of the time those “things” are completely out of the control of the person worrying. I submit to you that if you’re passing time worrying about something you have absolutely no control over then you are WASTING that time. You’d be better of spending that time finding a way to affect that which you are worrying about. The energy you spend worrying is WASTED energy as well.
As I type this our country has endured three years under the “leadership” of our first American-African president, Barack H. Obama. He wasn’t my choice. Nor was he the choice of more than 56 million other Americans. However, he won the election and is our president. We have two choices: we can waste time and energy being upset that things didn’t go our way or we can spend time and energy figuring out our best course of action when we get a chance to change things later this year. I’m not in a wasting mood; I’m in a spending mood.
So, take all that in and sit back and SPEND a few minutes considering yourself. Are you a WASTER? Or a SPENDER? Do your best to be objective and figure out if you are SPENDING your life – which means you are spending time and energy – or if you are WASTING your life by wasting time and energy. In my experience those who SPEND their lives inevitably have a more positive existence and a more positive impact on those around them. Those who WASTE their lives… well, that’s easy enough to figure out.
Are you wasting or spending your life? I hope you know the answer and I hope it’s the right one. If you’re not happy with the answer, start affecting the necessary changes TODAY to shift to the spend side.
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