Could Kid Rock have gotten it right?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Aaron S. Cowley
  • 18th Munitions Squadron commander
There is certainly no shortage of opinions regarding morality, but certain moral truths are so self-evident that even a hard-partying, rock star can recognize and use them to entertain and sell music.

Is it possible that someone as seemingly shallow as Kid Rock could get it right about something as deep as the moral essence of life? If so, is it even relevant to us as Airmen? While Kid Rock sings about a lot of activities I can't say I condone, his songs are certainly entertaining to many, and perhaps there really could be some moral value hidden among them. Regardless of your opinion of the musician, there seems to be at least some agreement with his assertion in his 1998 hit song "Only God Knows Why", when he belts out the line, "You get what you put in, and people get what they deserve."

To me, this phrase states the obvious. Simply summarizing the way life just seems to work. For all of us as Air Force leaders, I believe it also highlights our responsibility to those in our charge. To lead an effective crew, element, flight or unit we have to exercise active leadership. That is, we can't just sit back and let performance happen. We must provide appropriate consequences for positive as well as negative performance and behavior.

I don't claim to know exactly what makes this moral truth true, but like gravity, I've just seen it work too many times to deny it. I theorize that a sense of justice is innate in human nature and we as humans can't help but further the idea of justice because a just world is more survivable for all of us. I'm also not saying that any rock star discovered this truth. Most of us are familiar with this idea in Hinduism and Buddhism where it's called Karma and taken to a level of causality where doing good causes goodness to return to you. Similarly, most other major religions also feature an aspect of Kid Rock's assertion. Christianity, Islam, Confucianism and Judaism each apply some variation of the well-known principle of reciprocity which most would call the golden rule. Regardless of who first recognized it or what makes it work, is this idea relevant to our duties in the Air Force?

To be successful, it is necessary for any organization to operate in a just way, and leaders at all levels of the Air Force are responsible to ensure that we do so as well. To be an effective organization we all have to spend the time writing the award packages for those who deserve it as well as the Letters of Counseling for those who deserve the opposite. We have to be engaged to tell fellow Airman "thanks" for a job well done as well as give on-the-spot feedback on where they need to improve. If we, as supervisors, miss the opportunity to reward positive behavior or to punish negative behavior, then we fail to teach our subordinates the difference. If we apply our standards unjustly by failing to act on either good or poor behavior, then we better be ready to get what we deserve for our failure... likely demoralization and poor performance from our team.

Another component of this idea of justice, is that each of us, as leaders and as subordinates, need to "own up" to our situations as extensions of our own action (or inaction) in order to improve the organization's performance. As a leader, your organization becomes whatever you let or make it become. As a subordinate, your situation is most likely a result of the effort you have put into it. As obvious as this concept seems, I am continually amazed by how many people just don't get it and seem to go through life a perpetual victim. How can so many people blame circumstances so easily before considering how their own behavior may have impacted their situation? Perhaps the reason so many Airmen don't recognize the phenomena is that too many of us as leaders have failed to apply active leadership to appropriately reinforce positive behaviors and discourage negative ones.

In his song, Kid Rock used a simple phrase to point out that if you work hard, follow the rules and treat your fellow humans with dignity and respect, you'll get what you've got coming to you. Similarly, the lazy, selfish person who disregards society's norms (rules) and disrespects their fellow humans usually winds up in jail, destitute or just plain unhappy. There's no need to worry about what happens to the other guy, because everyone eventually gets what they've got coming to them. Even if it appears on the surface that someone "got away with it", you can rest assured that their turn is coming. What comes around certainly does go around. "You get what you put in, and people get what they deserve!"