Dibdibin Mo

For a year, like other senior high school students of my generation in the Philippines, my classmates and I were Citizen’s Army Training cadets. CAT. We — boys and girls both — were trained to be militia. It was part of our curriculum.

I don’t think they have this in schools here anymore, the fun ending around the turn of the century. Shame. I’m not making a case for its reinstatement; that would require knowing why they took it away, info I’m not enlightened with. But for what it’s worth, the experience did manage to teach us kids a few things, not to mention it got our derrieres outside sweating and exercising on the regular. Maybe it’s worth revisiting that CAT idea for schools today just for that forced outdoor sweat and exercise? It’s not exactly a smartphone-friendly few hours a week. Just a thought.

Well, one of the first lessons they taught us was how to stand at attention. Easy. One would think, anyway, but with the typically slouchy uncooperative mid-teenagers they had to work with, they ended up spending quite a bit more training time at it than I expected.

It didn’t help matters much that they didn’t really explain why they wanted us to do it, but to be fair, we didn’t really deserve an explanation — we were there to learn how to quickly and unquestioningly follow our superiors’ commands, whatever they were, and expected to do them exactly as they wanted us to do them.

Apparently, judging from my classmates’ performance, standing at attention turned out to be a technically complex maneuver; we spent a lot of time at it.

Beyond the no-brainer stuff like standing straight up and keeping our heels together, we also had to pound a three-item checklist into our psyches, something we supposedly had to quickly zoom through in our heads to get some proper military attention standing done. Fairly easy list. Namely, we were told:

Shoulders back. Chest out. Stomach in!

It’s been a long while since then, far longer than I’d really care to admit, so I’m not going to swear I got the checklist sequence correct, but I do remember those three items always lumped together as a set: shoulders back, chest out, stomach in!

Being my usual easily bored, distracted, mind-wandering self, I remember pondering that 3-item checklist. It’s not like there was much else to do while standing there rigidly in formation, just waiting around as the inexplicably angry-sounding commander screamed out instructions and threats as he walked up and down the rows of cadets, looking for infractions. Based on the amount of verbal hostility that spewed forth, either an abnormally huge number of my peers were adept at hiding their lack of muscular control all those years I knew them, or we had accidentally discovered that a disproportionate number of them were scoliosis sufferers.

Whatever. That took forever. More than enough boredom time to get me thinking: Why bother having us worry about all three items? That just complicates it. After all, I figured, to get it right, we just had to do one thing:

Chest out.

That’s it.

Try it out if you want.

By purposely sticking your chest out there, you’ll automatically pull your shoulders back. And you’ll somehow automatically suck your stomach in, enough anyway to get that chest out there.

The desired result will be achieved without much thought and effort.

Butt simple. Chest simple, rather.

I didn’t share that insight with any of the CAT higher-ups that day. That scene sure wasn’t a democracy that valued any input from the populace. Pointing out observed weaknesses to power-tripping folks already itching for any excuse to order push-ups, well, that would’ve been as epically stupid as saying honesty isn’t a factor for folks seeking public office (yeah, I’m looking at you, the idiot who said that).

I kept it to myself. In fact, I think this is the very first time I’ve shared this with anyone.

It did, however, become a personal mantra that managed to get itself stuck in my head ever since. Chest out!

So, why am I telling you this? It’s not like military-caliber attention standing know-how is high on your need-to-know list. And if you do it outside of any military scenario, people get uncomfortable and look at you funny.

Here’s why I’m bothering: Chest out is just a good, simple and easy reminder of two interesting observations:

  • Things are often (and usually) interrelated and linked together.
  • Figuring out a “fix” for anything may be a lot easier than we think.

That’s basically thinking about things — everything — as systems. They’re all systems. Big ones. Small ones. Big ones made up of a whole bunch of small ones. Etc., etc.

Let that idea simmer and sink in for a while. Its quite simple. And also quite important. We’ll likely revisit it many times in future posts. At least now you’ll know what I mean when I say chest out.