When Sh&t goes sideways
Life isn’t always smooth. In fact, it’s rarely smooth. Life can sometimes be one shitshow after another with short commercial breaks of dumpster fires. Not that it’s all bad, but it often depends on how we react to adversity.
Richard Marcinko, first Commander of Navy Seal Team 6 (Counterterrorism Unit), wrote many books about the Seals after his retirement. In his first book, Rogue Warrior, he describes the three levels of things gone wrong.
Level 1 is SNAFU, which is an acronym for Situation Normal, All F#&ked up. It is the regular state of things, a typical day at work. Things are not in great shape and maintain the capacity to worsen.
Level 2 is TARFU, meaning Things Are Really F#&ked Up. Mr. Murphy, of Murphy’s Law infamy, has arrived at the party uninvited, unannounced, and blitzed; and he’s going through tequila like water through a lock and dam. He’s destroying the place, encouraging a friendly game of indoor football using your lamps, throwing up on your couch, and hitting on your little sister.
Level 3 is FUBAR, or F#&ked Up Beyond Any Repair (or sometimes, beyond all recognition). This is where anything that could go wrong, has already gone wrong. There’s no way to fix the situation and you simply look for ways to survive the circumstances. The only way out is through. The police have arrived at your party and are loading your friends into the paddy wagon. It’s like working a restaurant at Friday night rush. A 30 top has come in, all rugby players, drunk after losing a game. They’re pissed, rude, and belligerent. A child at another table has spilled his soda all over you and everything else. Three angry, entitled Karens are bitching up a storm about needing napkins, wanting exactly five extra cubes of ice in their drink, why are the lemons not fresh, and that their steak is just a tad over medium well and they want to see your manager. Yeah, FUBAR is worse than that. Because now the kitchen has caught fire. And someone hit your car in the parking lot. And the cops are blaming you for where you parked. And your brother is calling the restaurant looking for you, from jail.
Sometimes, events can vacillate between TARFU and FUBAR. This is when you are simply in BOHICA. Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.
SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR. Definitions of nightmare in varying degrees. Shit going sideways. Mr. Murphy paying a little visit to let you know he’s still in town. And still drinking straight tequila from the bottle.
So let’s take a look at reacting to nightmares.
If you haven’t seen the 1986 movie, Aliens, starring Sigourney Weaver, you should. It is a great film. One of my favorites. It’s all over cable lately, and likely streaming somewhere. Well, my dear friends, if you haven’t seen it, I’m about to spoil it rotten right here and now.
Aliens follows the first movie, “Alien.” It’s 57 years later, and Ellen Ripley is found floating adrift in space in frozen stasis upon the command pod of the tug-ship Nostromo. She is the Nostromo’s only survivor after encountering a strange and deadly life form that singlehandedly slaughtered the rest of the crew in less than 24 hours.
A few weeks after her rescue she still suffers PTSD, panic attacks, and nightmares.
We meet Burke, a slick, lying, ambitious, ladder climbing, company weasel hellbent on climbing at least two steps on the corporate ladder of bureaucracy to middle management success in giant, evil mega-corporation, Weyland-Yutani. You know the type.
Burke lies to Ripley to convince her to go back to planet LV-426 to determine what happened to the colonists there who may have encountered one of the aliens described in her after-action report. She will be sent in with a platoon of Colonial Marines aboard the Sulaco.
Then, we meet the Marines.
The Marines, Ripley, and Burke wake from frozen stasis as they near LV-426.
Hudson wakes up and immediately starts complaining. Whining about the cold floor, becoming sarcastic with the Sgt., bitching about the food. He even smarts off at the Lt. about wanting out of “this chicken-shit outfit.” All of life is a brown bag of cold turds for Hudson.
Hicks wakes up and remains quiet. He speaks only when spoken to and only if his words mean something. You are left with the impression that the troops respect him.
Sgt. Apone, upon opening his eyes, shoves a cigar into his mouth. His first words are to show encouragement to his troops. “I love the Marines. Every meal is a banquet, every paycheck a fortune.” Apone gets his people on line and in order. He tolerates no lollygagging. He is fair but firm.
(Incidentally, Al Matthews, the man who played Apone, was a real Marine. He worked with the actors for months to get them into shape. He taught them to work together as a unit so they would look, act and talk like real Marines. By the time filming started, they were very tight. Matthews died a few years ago and the actors spoke very fondly of him and respected him greatly.)
Vasquez wakes up and marches directly to the pullup bar. She is knocking out pullups when Hudson starts in on her. When Hudson asks if she has ever been mistaken for a man she asks if he has. Even her boyfriend Frost is fearful and enamored of her. “You’re just too bad.” He tells her. We next see Vasquez practicing with the “smart gun.” It’s a huge harness-mounted monstrosity that looks as if it lays down heavy fire. It’s her weapon of choice.
Ripley is simply a survivor. She has wits and will and that’s enough. She does what she needs to do to make sure everyone gets through.
We don’t meet Lt. Gorman until breakfast. According to the platoon, he’s ‘too good’ to sit with the grunts. When we finally see him, he is a recruitment poster Marine. His uniform is so sharp it might as well have been made of cardboard. His haircut is high and tight. He doesn’t talk to the troops, he ‘addresses’ them. He doesn’t even know their names and calls Hudson by Hicks. When Hudson gets out of line about it, he waits until Apone brings things to order. When Gorman finally does give the orders, he wants things done “by the numbers.” In my experience, when someone wants things done by the numbers, it’s French for “I went to school to learn this job. I have no experience, no imagination, no improvisation. I can’t create solutions if things go off the rails. So things better go like they do in my school books.” He essentially displays his uselessness. A leader would have said, “Marines, you know your jobs, you know what we need. Let’s get together and get it done by this time.” But no. He barks orders about going by the numbers and giving deadlines as if a punishment. That’s all you need to know about him. Guys like him are the reason there were stories during the Vietnam War about the life expectancy of a 2Lt being 8 seconds. Followed by jokes about them being the victim of “friendly fire.” Guys like Gorman tried to apply textbook answers to impossible situations.
The first time shit goes sideways.
The platoon is under a huge heat exchanger, an enormous nuclear reactor meant to create atmosphere for the planet. Ripley reminds Gorman that gunfire in that area might set off an explosion or a massive radiation leak.
And here, my beautiful reader, is where the thrust of this article takes form. Yes, folks, I’m finally getting around to it. How people react when shit goes sideways.
Gorman immediately loses control. His lip starts quivering. He starts sweating. He stammers orders in a quaky voice to Apone to collect ammo and use flame throwers only. We have officially entered TARFU.
Suddenly and quietly the aliens attack the Marines. Apone and three others are taken out. The Marines are freaking out. Hudson is griping about the Sarge being gone. The troops are scattering about aimlessly.
Vasquez, the fighter, uses hidden ammo she refused to turn in (because F&ck the rules) and announces (in one of the most memorable lines in the film), “Let’s ROCK!” She starts letting rounds go, taking out aliens left and right.
Gorman, realizing his orders are being disobeyed, freezes. His troops aren’t listening to him. Apone is gone. He actually freezes and sweats profusely. He then experiences a complete vapor lock and no longer functions. Useless. Like pulling the cord on a lawnmower with no sparkplug. Spitting and sputtering and doing nothing for no one.
Then two people take charge.
Hicks assumes command. He orders all Marines to fall back to the APC. He starts going after the aliens with his trusty shotgun and laying down cover fire for his retreating troops. He leaves none behind. The troops follow him. He creates a plan, conveys it to his team, and makes sure it is put into action.
Ripley also takes charge. Always the decisive one, she moves into the driver’s seat of the APC and goes in after the retreating Marines. She doesn’t wait for orders, she doesn’t wait for Hicks to tell her to do something. She knows she needs to save them. She drives through a wall to get to them. When Gorman finally comes to his senses and tries to stop Ripley from saving the team, Burke tells Gorman to stand down, which he does – despite his rank. Burke then watches with near panting excitement while Ripley goes into action. Ripley drives through a wall, rescues the Marines, and drives back out. They make it back to the command center and assess the situation.
All in all, we learn about the players involved and how they react to FUBAR. Burke considers only the cost of the complex – the money. Gorman freezes and becomes effectively ineffective. (Earlier we see that he stays in the APC until he learns that the coast is clear on the first search and then orders Hicks to meet him at the door so he can be escorted in, wearing his Class-C jumpsuit and carrying only his sidearm. A real hero) Apone runs his squad, keeps them focused, and runs the show until ambushed and taken out by an alien. Hudson loses his mind and doesn’t know where to go. Vasquez goes into fight mode and doesn’t stop until they are back at the command center. Ripley makes tough decisions and does what is necessary to get the job done. Hicks steps up to take charge and save the team. Back at the command center, he doesn’t bark orders. He simply asks the troops to collect everything from the APC. He then assesses the resources, analyzes the situation, and applies the resources to the problem at hand. Put what we got to what we got to do. Ripley, knowing how these aliens think, suggests that they seal the command center with barricades. Hicks agrees and sets the crew to work.
So, here’s what we have.
Vasquez fights. Hudson crumbles. Burke protects himself and the money. Gorman freezes. Hicks steps up. Apone runs things despite the circumstances. Ripley survives.
Along the way we meet Newt, a little girl. She is also a survivor. But only because she runs and hides.
In another development, Ripley learns that in order to fight this many aliens she must do more than just survive. She must learn to fight. She learns how to run a rifle. She learns to operate a tracker and other military equipment. She gathers the needed skills she knows she might need in the future. She becomes ready and prepared.
Then we learn that Burke, the backstabbing, spineless, witless, useless, weaselly, company man, has designs to smuggle two of the aliens back to earth. He wants to cut a lucrative deal that will give him all the rights and royalties to the use of this dangerous life form. He’s willing to sacrifice the entire Marine platoon to do it. He is also the one who directed the colonists, who have been on LV-426 for 30 years, to go scouting for the spacecraft where the Nostromo crew encountered the first alien years ago. He wouldn’t have gotten this idea if he weren’t privy to the after-action report Ripley wrote and none of the corporatocracy of Weyland-Yutani believes. So the purpose for this whole disastrous mission is to get rich by cutting a corporate deal to make some money and move up the ladder to executive pencil sharpener in some vast corporation. Yay him. But wait, he gets his. Heh heh.
The second time shit goes sideways.
The aliens have entered the complex despite attempts to lock them out. They’re coming in through the ceiling.
Hicks reminds the troops to monitor their ammo so they can survive the fight.
Hudson, despite being a whining bitch the whole film, goes out like a true warrior. He goes into beast mode, finally. He screams at the aliens, fires at them in anger, and never stops even when he is attacked from below the floor and the aliens drag him down to his death. But he goes out fighting. We finally feel some respect for Hudson.
Burke becomes the worst thing possible. He runs away and locks the door behind him, so the others die in the fight. He is a coward and a buddyfu&$er. He’s the kind of guy that would unplug his mother’s life support to charge his phone. He sacrifices the team to save himself. We are actually happy that one of the aliens gets him as he is trying to run away. People in the theater cheered. No one mourns him. He was as useless and cowardly at his end as he has been all through the film. Good bye.
Hicks again steps up, corrals the troops, and establishes a plan for escape. They’ll go through the air ducts and head for the airstrip where another drop ship is coming down from the Sulaco.
Vasquez fights until the very end. She utilizes one weapon after another. In the air duct, she is injured and down. She won’t be able to retreat and escape on her own. But she still fights until she is out of ammo and alone. Gorman, finally, in his first act of good behavior, goes back to save Vasquez. When all ammo is gone and they are surrounded by aliens, he suggests the hero’s way out. He shows Vasquez a grenade and she agrees. They’re going to die, but they’ll take a few out with them. It’s Vasquez’s last brave act and Gorman’s first.
At the end, Ripley, Newt make it back to the Sulaco thanks to Bishop, the android Science Officer. They think everything is over. Suddenly, the alien queen of the hive rips Bishop in two and comes after Ripley and Newt. Ripley, always protecting Newt, tells her to hide. Ripley, ever resourceful, decides to fight the alien queen with a walking fork truck. You heard me. When she emerges from the warehouse with this huge machine and challenges the queen, the audience erupts with cheers. She goes hand to hand with the queen - and wins. Always the survivor.
So now that I’ve got the introduction out of the way, let’s talk about how any of this applies to you. Because I’m sure by now you’re wondering if I’m just regaling a favorite film. But I have a purpose, my friends.
In our lives, shit can ALWAYS go sideways. Occasionally, things may even vacillate between TARFU AND FUBAR. In those times, we look for things to go back to SNAFU. Those will be the good times. It’s not always like this, but it gets this way occasionally.
So who are you when shit goes sideways?
Are you Hudson, Hicks, Burke, Newt, Apone, or Ripley.
Do you crumble, sputter, and complain, choke and freeze, step up and lead, screw your teammates, hide from responsibility, run things and keep the team motivated despite the circumstances, just survive, or use all the available resources creatively to get the job done?
Are you complaining about how bad things are now, while they are only SNAFU?
Are you the kind that says the only way out is through?
Are you gathering new skills, learning new things, acquiring new habits, so you’ll be better prepared for the next time things go FUBAR?
Are you learning other people’s jobs, so you can step up when the need arises?
Are you running and hiding, staying out of sight, waiting for the smoke to clear before you show your face again?
Are you a fighter, willing to load up and do the dirty work?
Who are you when shit goes sideways?
A person is not judged by how they act when things are running smoothly. They are judged by how they behave when shit goes sideways. How do you behave?
I tell my clients that there is nothing outside of you that is inherently stress. Today I told my Tai Chi class this same thing. No one can walk into a room and say, “there’s stress” or “that’s anxiety right there.” Yes, danger is real. But if your job doesn’t involve you being shot at, like a soldier or cop. If it doesn’t involve falling through a burning floor like a firefighter. If it doesn’t involve you sliding into a frozen lake like an ice road trucker. I’d say you might be fairly safe from danger. Danger is real, but not common. Stress is what you create.
Your brain is prewired to react to a saber-toothed tiger. You are specifically engineered to run fast and fight hard when real danger approaches. But what about when you spill something at work, or the boss calls you into the office, or you see the caller ID on a phone call you don’t want to take right now. This isn’t danger. You create stress about this. Stress comes from within.
You must be able to perform while stressed. Do you have the option to hide, freeze, freak out, or backstab your mates when shit goes sideways? Do you want to? Do you want to be that person?
Stress affects the physical body in real ways. You can become sick from stress. Most illnesses and physical maladies are the result of being constantly immersed in the stress created in our minds as a reaction to outside circumstances.
How do you react when faced with difficult circumstances?
I teach my clients how to choose between reaction and response when it comes to life’s challenges. I teach methods to pull the autonomic system from the fight or flight reaction to the rest and digest mode where a proper response can be chose and acted upon.
Who are you when shit hits the fan?
Apone, Hicks, Hudson, Newt, Burke, Gorman, or Ripley?
My dear friends, I am sorry to say that after Christmas, I will have to cancel the Wednesday night Tai Chi class. My class schedule at school will change in January. I will be in school from 8am to 7pm on Wednesdays and these are the only times these classes are available. I’m sorry to have to do this. Until Christmas, the Wednesday night class will continue as scheduled. In Evansville, I will still offer the Saturday morning Tai Chi class at Unity of Evansville at 4118 Pollack Ave. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.
This week in Tai Chi let’s work on the Tai Chi ruler. I’ll supply the rulers and the fun. You supply yourselves. Fair enough? LOL.
I hope you’ve had half as much reading this post as I have had writing it.
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I am in school for Therapeutic Massage and adding this modality to my repertoire. Massage, Reiki, and Acupressure are a potent combination. At the end of the session, I add crystal bowls and drumming for even deeper relaxation and healing.
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In the Tao,