Some Thoughts on Living above the Rules

The cadets here at Chamberlain-Hunt live a very regimented life. To illustrate, I will describe what happens when they eat. Before meals they form up into their platoons and companies at the parade deck and march to the Dining Facility. Each company waits outside and when the line clears the company enters the Dining Facility by platoon and stands at parade rest (no talking, looking straight ahead, with hands behind their back) until they are through the line. If anyone talks during this process they get sent to the road, which means that they have to run a couple hundred yards across the parade grounds to the road and back. After they get their food they proceed to the table where they stand at attention until the whole platoon is at the table and then they sit down together and eat.

Of course authority has its privileges. These rules, even though they “apply” to all cadets, in truth apply only to the cadets standing in line. The platoon sergeants, the company master sergeants and officers all stand off to the side watching. Their job is to keep discipline in the ranks. But since they are not in the ranks themselves, they feel free to talk, laugh, and horse around all they want. Of course while the officers are doing this, if any cadet standing in line starts talking, the officer will interrupt his own horse-play or conversation to send the hapless cadet to the road for breaking the rules.

In other words, the rules that regiment a cadet’s life don’t necessarily apply to cadets in leadership. The obvious lesson to be learned is that the officers are above the law.

Of course the cadets have to learn this behavior from somewhere and it turns out that the best teachers are the cadre (that is, the faculty and staff). To illustrate that, I turn to the transition from morning study hall (7:30-8:30) to Devotions (8:30-8:40). Everyone (cadets and cadre) are required to attend morning devotions. At about 8:20 the cadets begin to clean up the tables and get everything put away for devotions. At the same time cadre begin to arrive.

Typically the cadets are done with cleanup by 8:25 and at that point they are required to remain completely quiet and in their seats. They are not allowed to talk to their neighbor; they are not allowed to get up and move about unless they have a specific task that needs to be done. But almost every day they begin to talk and soon there is a low rumble in the room until the Officer In Charge ( or, OIC in acronym-speak) barks out a command to be quiet, or someone will get sent to the road.

Of course we cadre are oblivious to all this (except to complain to each other occasionally about all the talking going on). We cadre are above the law, after all. So we sit at our table and talk and laugh and do all that important business that adults must get done in the five minutes before devotions. After all, keeping quiet in the Dining Facility in preparation for devotions, sitting up straight with feet on the floor, paying attention and not shutting the eyes … all those rules clearly don’t apply to us. We enforce those rules, so we don’t have to abide by them. Those things are for the cadets, just as standing in line at attention and not talking is for the cadets who aren’t officers, while the officers are free to ignore those rules that they are called on to enforce.

Sitting in the Dining Facility at 8:25 listening to the roar of the cadre talking and laughing and horsing around while the OIC is barking commands to the cadets to be quiet, I am reminded of the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Communists, of Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, and all those other authoritarian leaders throughout history whom we love to hate because they required sacrifice of their citizens while they themselves lived a life of luxury and often excess. We wonder how they could possibly live such duplicitous lives. Where are their principles? Where is their party spirit? If the principles of (at this point, fill in the name of any authoritarian regime you choose) are so fine and appropriate for the masses, why don’t the leaders live by the same principles?

At least this is what I was thinking about a few minutes later, slouching comfortably at the table with my legs crossed and my eyes closed while the devotional leader droned on and on about something or other in the Shorter Catechism.

And then I had what actually could have been a holy and uplifting thought if it would have occurred at an appropriate time and place instead of during devotions while the OIC was stalking around the Dining Facility making cadets sit up straight with both feet on the floor, paying careful attention to every word that came out of the devotional leaders mouth: Isn’t this pretty much what Jesus meant when he said (in Mat. 20:25ff), “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave”.