6 Points for Midweek Motivation From a U.S. Marine

I don’t know about you, but I periodically need a verbal kick in the rear to focus on priorities and imminent tasks ahead. We live in a world of noisy and visual distractions, temptations for comfort, of gathering “likes” and lingering in our safe spaces. Less often we hear of self-discipline, ­­­commitment, honesty, calculated risk, serving others and building strength.

Enter Staff Sgt. May of the United States Marine Corps. On June 3, the Marines posted a video of the staff sergeant giving an introduction speech to new recruits, presumably at the beginning of boot camp. Titled “Black Friday,” the recruits are given a swift and frequently loud overview of what it takes to be a Marine. Staff Sgt. May, the senior drill instructor, also explains the commitment he and his assistant drill instructors will give the recruits. The worlds of these recruits have been abruptly changed.

But you don’t have to be a Marine recruit or have been in the military to gain wisdom from what Staff Sgt. May has to share. I wasn’t, but I see why the Marines posted this video: The message is appealing and I believe it especially speaks to the hearts of men. Here are some lessons I gleaned, but I hope you watch the three-minute video to see for yourselves.  

1. “Sit up straight and look at me right now!”

Before his speech, Staff Sgt. May salutes another Marine and says “Aye aye, sir!” Then, he starts with these bolded words above—and the tone is not conversational. Tell me you don’t want to improve your posture, as the recruits did, after hearing this! In our distracted 21st century culture, undivided attention is a precious commodity. We show respect and gain knowledge when we give undivided attention at Mass, to children, to the elderly, to everyone. Let’s be aware to the present and not pacified by our digital devices.

2. “We will treat you, as we do our fellow Marines, with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion.”

Refreshing to hear this and again, this reminds me to do the same. The trait of firmness, however, seems to be a tricky one. I work with middle school students in an urban public school and they are well-versed in the ways of protest, negotiation and whining. However, I must be firm in choosing the right thing for them, be it a consequence for poor behavior, or a reward. If I let my desire to be liked override a necessary (but unpopular) decision, I am not serving their best interests.

Staff Sgt. May later goes over what is demanded from recruits: “Be completely honest in everything that you do. A Marine never lies, cheats or compromises. Respect the rights and property of others. A Marine never steals!”

And that passage echoes two of the Ten Commandments.

3. “We will give every effort to train you, even after some of you have given up on yourselves!”

This reminds me to be grateful to God for those who have spent their time, effort and money for my education and for those who have given me encouragement along the way. And likewise we should ask: Who are the ones in our realm that need our unwavering support, when they are downcast or despondent? The ones who have given up on themselves. Ultimately, we are reminded of our good Lord and his tireless mercy.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves,” says Jesus in Matthew 11:28-29.

4. “You will give 100% of yourselves at all times...”   

...is another one of the demands given to the recruits by Staff Sgt. May. This is a high demand for any of us, particularly in the afternoon when I would rather take an ice-coffee break or nap. But I can put off a reward for later, when a break is warranted and work has been done. A message that goes well with this Marine directive was included in a box of bread baked by Trappist Monks of the Abbey of the Genesee. Titled a “Thought for Today”:

“This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it…” and it continues.

5. “Discipline and Spirit...”

...are the hallmarks of a Marine, Staff Sgt. May tells his recruits. I see an easy translation to the spiritual life. In order to live a rich, fulfilled life–one that looks beyond this world–we should talk to God. And to talk to God, we need to pray and make room in our day, every day, for this prayer. This requires discipline and space, quiet time with the Lord, meditation on his words in Sacred Scripture and space to speak from our hearts. We need to be in touch, in communion with the Holy Spirit. Sin and selfishness injure our communion with God, but he is slow to anger and rich in kindness and mercy. Through repentance, Mass and especially in the sacrament of confession, we experience his mercy and healing. Regular confession helps us to pray better, to rebuild and build up that relationship with the Holy Spirit, to reconcile with God. The sacrament is not just for those who have committed serious sin, or for those who have been away for a long time. It is a loving power source for all Catholics to grow. Jesus shows us in the Divine Mercy chaplet how much emphasis he gives to his oceanic mercy.

Toward the end of the speech, Staff Sgt. May shouts, “Ears!”

The response of the recruits is “Open, sir!”

Reminds me to make sure I give space in my prayer time, to quiet myself and try to listen to God. It reminds me again to listen attentively to others.

6. “Above all else, never quit, never give up!”

Staff Sgt. May was talking about the challenge of Marine training and becoming a Marine. We can think of it generally for life. Day by day, we fight on and learn to rely and trust in our Lord and his unfathomable love for us, and turn to those placed in our life when we need help. Also, to be there for those who need our help, our accompaniment, to pass on God’s message of love and mercy.  

Finally, I must say that Staff Sgt. May gives a clinic here in motivational oratory. On first viewing, it might seem like an impromptu Marine speech one could see in the movies. But after closer examination, it is a memorized, instructional speech with a variance of delivery, precision and a physicality that commands attention. Warrior poetry in motion.

We might be dragging in the middle of a work week, but Staff Sgt. May’s speech should motivate all of us try harder. With a bedrock of prayer and being mindful of others, let’s “shake out our legs” and “power walk” to our next task.