Image credit: Daily Telegraph

A long, long time ago when I was young (yes, that long ago…) I spent some time with certain elements of the British Army. Among all the technical terms I had to learn, and all the manuals of arms I had to memorize, and all the squaddie slang, there was one memorable phrase that pithily summarized the ethos of those I was training alongside: Don’t Be Shit.

When you’re tired and wet and cold and hungry and you have a tasking to perform, there’s no use being negative and there’s no excuse for not getting the job done. Get a grip, crack on, do the business.

I learned a lot about determination and I discovered that the mind nearly always gives up long before the body. Ultra-runners and other endurance athletes discover the same truth. Conditioning the mind enables the body to perform quite astonishing tasks.

Although my professional career has been strictly white-collar for decades now, I’ve always tried to stay near operational condition both physically and mentally, though inevitably it’s getting harder and harder as the decades slip by. But sadly I’m fairly atypical in this regard. It’s far more common to see young people who are, in the words of my long-ago Army companions, “in shit shape.”

A few years back I was doing some build-up training for the Fan Dance. Carrying my Bergen weighing 30kg, I was jogging up a gentle incline on the periphery of Muir Woods in Marin County, nearly at the end of a 25-mile tab. Ahead of me a very overweight young man in his late teens was sitting on a tree stump. In one hand he was clutching an enormous plastic bottle of cola and in the other a large bar of chocolate. As I passed him, breathing heavily and soaked in sweat, he said, “Why yo do that to yoself, man?”

I felt like asking him the same thing. Except it wouldn’t have made any sense to him because he was just doing what everyone else is doing: failing to make adequate lifestyle choices and thus squandering health and years of enjoyable life.

Turns out, however, there are times when it can be very useful when the world around you appears to be quite dysfunctional.

A few months later, as I was walking across a darkened carpark after leaving my local supermarket late at night, two young men were of the opinion it would be productive to relieve me of my possessions. Doubtless as they were taller and younger they were confident that their self-appointed task would be straightforward, which, in a way, it was. I summarily introduced the young gentlemen to my friends Mister Iron Bollard and Mister Concrete Curbstone and then got into my car and drove home.

If anyone in the USA sent out a memo saying Don’t Be Shit, it’s clear the two young gentlemen didn’t receive it.

Recently a dear friend of mine who lives in a Midwest city told me about her adventures on a well-known site for those seeking casual sexual encounters. As my friend has a very high sex drive and has shed nearly all the neuroses and repressions that typify sexuality in the USA, she is rather keen on finding well-endowed men who can satisfy her frequent cravings. The website is, from her perspective, absolutely ideal.

As one may imagine the male-to-female ratio is about 6:1 so she has plenty of options to choose from. Even better, 99% of the women on the site are too fearful ever to meet anyone in real life. Sufficient for them are the tiny dopamine jolts obtained from online flirting and receiving flattering messages. The vast majority of women content themselves with a faint echo of reality, a vague simulacrum of interpersonal interaction.

What this means is that my friend can get laid every night of the week if she feels so inclined, because every man she contacts will be ready to drop everything in order to meet her. They are all so disappointed by every other woman on the site that a woman who actually wants to meet in person and has made it clear that if the chemistry is right then she will proceed rapidly to intimacy is like a unicorn and gold dust and Christmas all rolled into one. Which suits my very attractive and very sexual friend just fine. Her competition is so busy “being shit” that she reaps the rewards.

Even after six decades on this planet I still don’t really understand why most people are so ready to accept fifth-best when with a little determination and effort and self-awareness it’s possible to live a full and rich life. I don’t really understand why sitting on a sofa watching someone else’s ersatz life or swiping compulsively on pictures of people you’ll never meet should be more compelling than fully living one’s own real life.

But as that seems to be the norm, the few who sign up to the injunction Don’t Be Shit sometimes get to benefit in some rather curious ways.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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