Lessons From Prince Harry

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I am currently reading Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spare, and while it is very good, it is also raising many questions in my mind. After finishing up a section regarding his last tour to Afghanistan in the British Army, in which he speaks toward a doctored article written about him following an exit interview given to the press. He goes on to speak of his lack of regret toward the people he killed during the war. Apart from the fact that these acts took part during a war and that was his mission – to fight against the Taliban – he states that the training of “other-ize-ing” these people (seeing them not as people but as chess pieces removed from the board), they were also “Bads taken away before they could kill Goods”. Pieces taken out before they could take the lives of civilians and those fighting on ‘our’ side.

While I fully understand where he is coming from (my own father, himself, toured during the beginning of that war), it brings up moral questions for me. Such as: who are we to determine who is “Good” and who is “Bad”? Some of those Taliban soldiers are forced or threatened into such a role, acting as they do out of survival and the survival of those they love. That line of thinking then lead me into the “other-ize-ing” training Prince Harry received and the boot camp training my father went through to break military members out of the idea of the “self” and into the idea of “one unit/one solider”. Ultimately, it is an intense sundering of the individual from identifying with oneself as a “self” – as an independent being – and into the idea that we are all one individual; that each solitary act affects the whole.

That is a hard idea to truly wrap our heads around in our culture. We (in the United States) are raised with the social conditioning to think and assert ourselves as individuals. We are raised and encouraged to “stand out from the pack”, to “make a name for ourselves”, to be “on top”, to be “the best”, “number one”. Yet, on the same token, we condemn those who have done as such or (as in Prince Harry’s case) were simply born into that world without choosing such a life. Then, we make it a mission to “take those people down”, that they “asked for it” by striving for or achieving that life of renown. They are “Bad” and we are “Good”, et cetera, et cetera.

While I do not agree with all that is beat into the military when going through boot camp, I see the beauty in the concept of dissolving the idea of “self”. If were raised with this idea of non-individualism, how would that begin to shape our society? How would we go about that process without having to resort to the intensity of boot camp (because that is intense, folks; people lose their minds as you are completely destroying the entire foundations of their being)? Is it even possible at such a large scale? Would it bring peace and a universal set of ethics? Or would individualism creep back in to the culture? Do some of us want it to stay?

There are so many problems caused by individualism, war being a horrifying one, selfie-sticks being an annoying one. However, there are many problems caused by misused ideas of “one-ness”, such as cult mentalities or the ostracizing of those who don’t fit into those ideas. The question is: what do we define as “Good” and “Bad”? Can they even be held as mutually exclusive ideas? Was Thích Quảng Đức “Bad” for burning himself to death protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government because those images may have been seen by young children? Is Prince Harry “Good” for ending lives during the Iraq War since he was fighting a “Bad” enemy, even when some of that enemy may have been young people frightened into fighting for that side to protect their parents and grandparents from torture? Am I “Good” for smashing that spider because I don’t ‘do’ spiders, even though it is protecting my beloved fiddle fig tree from pests that may kill it?

Life is not black and white. There is so much grey area and those full of colour that defy definition. I think that having a loose idea of a “self” is a good thing, but I see great benefit for the dissolution of that same idea. I struggle with this idea on a daily basis, trying to break it down and shed that “self”. The idea of destroying the idea of the individual can be a scary thing and not everyone wants to do that. It may not necessarily be a good thing, we don’t truly know. What I do know is this: Reading is magically. Who would have thought that an autobiography from a modern-day Prince would have me questioning the idea of self when most of us went into it salivating for royal gossip? You just never know what you are getting into when you delve into a book, do you?

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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