I was face down on the hospital gurney when two hulking men decked out in camouflage entered the room. One was my drill sergeant, the other was an equally intimidating, but slightly taller, hospital orderly. The two were followed by a petite young nurse, who was pushing a small metal tray on wheels that held a variety of medical tools. Immediately, I sensed something wasn’t quite right (think: Han Solo’s reaction when the Millennium Falcon comes out of hyperspace and gets pummeled by bits of Alderaan). As it turned out, my hunch – like Han’s – was correct.
For weeks, I had been bothered by a sore on my foot that was caused by my boot continually rubbing against my outer heal (I wear a size 13 Extra Wide, but the U.S. Army insisted I wore a size 11). The once-small sore eventually grew to the size of a silver dollar, and became a quite disgusting open wound. The infection that ensued caused my temperature to rise to 103-degrees, yet even with my Army-issued thermals and field jacket on, I was shivering uncontrollable .
So, there we were, inside a small hospital room: myself, two burly sergeants, and a nurse with sharp implements, and while this happened twenty-five years ago, the images remain vivid. Without wasting time (an unusual trait for anything Army-related) the nurse readied her scalpel and forceps, and nodded at the sergeants. The two men positioned themselves on either side of me, each placing one hand between my shoulder blades, and the other on my lower calf, and then he said it. As I strained to turn my head to see what was about to happen, my drill sergeant looked me in the eyes and said something that has become forever emblazoned on my mind: “Not gonna lie, Private – you’re gonna hafta bite the bullet, son. This is gonna hurt.” His assessment was accurate.
For the next several minutes – which seemed like hours – the two sergeants held me down while the nurse used her scalpel and forceps and began the excruciating process of cutting and pulling away the infected skin. (Notice there wasn’t any pain medication or numbing shots before or during this process.) My reaction was close to that of Poe Dameron, as Kylo Ren tortured him – lots of yelling, and completely exhausted afterward.
Despite this experience, my respect for my drill sergeant was never higher. He didn’t sugar-coat things, or try to convince me everything was going to be “OK.” Instead, he gave it to me straight – and because of his authenticity, I not only was better prepared to deal with the situation, but my loyalty toward him grew exponentially.
There are a number of instances we can look to and see this straight-talk* play out with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. For starters, when Luke – who wants so badly to get off of Tatooine – attempts to rationalize why he can’t help Obi-Wan, the aged Jedi calls him out, stating, “That’s your uncle talking.” It’s an early sign that Obi-Wan wasn’t going to let Luke off the hook. Soon thereafter, we get another glimpse of this straight-talk when Obi-Wan and Luke come across the slaughtered Jawas. It is here where Obi-Wan not only points out the staged ambush**, but tells Luke that Luke himself would’ve been killed just as Owen and Beru were. This “truth talk” continues throughout the saga, including when the tag team combination of Yoda and a ghostified Obi-Wan blatantly proclaim, “You must confront Vader.” That is about as real as it gets.
Whether it’s part of the “Jedi Code,” or just the fact that Obi-Wan is now old enough and wise enough to know that mincing words rarely does anyone any good, it is the matter-of-fact talk that keeps Luke on the path of the hero’s journey, and accountable to a larger purpose. This is important, since mentors understand that straight-talk is a calculated risk, as some mentees may find the truth to be too scary and therefore abandon the relationship altogether. The hope is that the mentee understands the mentor is communicating from a position of love, not power. In the case of Kenobi and Skywalker, each dose of straight-talk leads to the emotional growth of Luke’s character, as well as his appreciation for his mentor(s). (As we ready ourselves for Episodes VIII and IX, it will be fascinating to watch Luke be on the other side of the mentor-mentee relationship.)
I’ve been fortunate to have a handful of incredible mentors in my life, and despite the differences in age, economic status, and education, one thing remains shared between each of them: they never shied away from being upfront, even when the subject was emotionally tough. To this day, these men hold the highest place in my heart because of their willingness to do something extraordinary – tell it like it is.
What about you? Has there been someone in your life that risked the relationship by being bold enough to be upfront and honest? How did that experience impact you?
*Yes, Obi-Wan also did his fair share of presenting things “from a certain point of view,” but we’ll touch on that in future installments.
**Observation: if Imperial Stormtroopers are notoriously horrible shots, but Obi-Wan refers to blast points on the Sandcrawler as too accurate for Sand People, just how bad of a shot are Tusken Raiders…?
Special thanks to Danny Long, Andy Lewis, Kurt Harris and Lee Purkey. Your dedication and willingness to be straight-talkers is a truly precious gift. Thank you!