Per ardua ad astra

Today, on the blog, I give to you, Jon Bartlett. He’s been someone I’ve only connected with in the last 6 months or so, but I’m glad I have. He forever provides a voice of reason, good humour, and is a gent to compare. He writes his own blog on occasion which is often the good read. I have thoroughly enjoyed this story, Jon shares with us below.

“Just let me out, for f***’s sake – I din’t do nothing” came the voice accompanying the explosive percussion on the cell door.

“Sergeant, please can you have a quiet word and explain the error of his ways to him?” I asked. The response came in that gentle Welsh accent. “I’ll try Sir but he wouldn’t listen to the Corporal overnight.” I mused on this, Cpl Evans was a man of infinite patience, if he couldn’t get through maybe it was time for a different tack. “Ok, wheel him in but warn him on his language, there’s no need for him to make it worse for himself” I sat back to listen to the Sergeant prepare the man, (always a pleasure to hear an expert at work). Soon enough a rather bedraggled looking Junior Technician stood in front of me.

“Ah JT Phillips, I should have known it was you when I was told we had a visitor. Well what’s your excuse this time? Girlfriend dumped you? Lost at cards? Moon in Capricorn? Honestly I lose track”

“They shouldn’t have arrested me” he blurted out

“They didn’t arrest you Phillips, you were ‘accommodated’ out of the goodness of Cpl Evans heart because you were about to be beaten up for being rude to people bigger than you and in all honesty you were so drunk that he decided you’d be better off with us rather than choking on your own vomit in your pit. So lets not hear any complaints about how hard done by you are, be thankful we let you have a blanket, one we’ll need to disinfect I note. Now what was it this time?”

“I got passed over for promotion”

“Are you honestly surprised?”

“That’s easy for you to say, poncey officers with your money and your f***ing degrees, Bunch of jumped up w*****s. Think you know it all cos they give you a badge and some power, makes me f***ing sick.” To be fair to him, he did look rather stunned by what he’d just said, I think it was that look of amazement which made me ask the Sergeant to put him back down. Then however I exploded.

“Right, let’s take that from the top, I don’t have a degree, my father is a builder and I lived in a tiny bungalow not some ruddy mansion. I had to work hard to get where I am, be that at school or at the RAF college. So let’s be clear about who I am shall we? Why did they give me the rank? Well I guess because they saw something in me and said, here is a guy who can lead people, who will care about the people under his command. You know Phillips I don’t think I’m any better than you, merely that I have different skills. They made you a technician, because you are clever enough to mend satellite tracking systems, me I can barely wire a plug. So let’s not hear any more bleating about how tough things are. You failed to make corporal or indeed something more because you want to blame everyone else for your lack of achievement instead of standing up and being counted. No one has the right to promotion, you have to earn the trust and respect of your peers and seniors. You want to waste your life in a haze of drink and regret then you go right ahead but don’t bring it to my door, or to Sgt Williams or Cpl Evans. They could have arrested you on a charge of drunkenness. I could have you arrested now for insubordination. My staff have tried to help you – yes I’ve checked the records as I’m only new here – you seem to be a fairly regular visitor to our humble establishment, but no more. We are tired of giving you chances, the next time we see you we will charge you and I can assure you the Commanding Officer will see fit to deprive you of your liberty for a while. So think on that and as you would routinely say ‘F*** off’ out of my sight before I change my mind.”

The Sergeant came back a few minutes later “Well it had to be said sir but I don’t hold out much hope.” I thanked him for his efforts and headed back to my office.

A few days later there was a knock on my door. A very shamefaced JT Phillips had come to apologise. It was the end of a long day and I really wasn’t in the mood. I grudgingly accepted his words, it was more than I had thought I would get to be honest. Then however he asked if I would sponsor him for promotion. I told him that it should be his Flight Commanders job. He admitted that his boss had refused, infuriated with Phillips attitude, deaf to his protestations. I asked him why me? He said it was because I had given him a chance, that underneath his bluster he knew he was destroying himself, the fact that I had let him off a likely charge had shown him that he couldn’t just blame the hierarchy, he needed to step up. I took all that with a pinch of salt and sent him away to write 1000 words on what skills, knowledge and experience he could bring to promotion, and crucially, why him rather than all the other applicants. I figured that would be the last I would see of him.

A week later he was back, the paper was tatty, dog eared, had tippex everwhere but he’d done it. In 987 words he wrote eloquently of his childhood and his desire to escape his upbringing, of how the RAF had provided him with a family which he had then sadly abused as he didn’t know how to deal with kindness. He wrote of how his experience could save others from a similar path.

So who learned more from the experience? Him or me? I’m not sure. I know he went on to become an engineering officer and to a successful career. I know that this event happened almost 20 years ago but it remains fresh in mind and is still a reminder to me to look beyond the surface of everyone I meet. I guess that day is still probably helping both of us to continue to learn.

Over the month of February I am hosting guest blog posts and the invitation is open to all. If you’d like to take part, the question you have to answer is: What has been your biggest learning in life?


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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