Year of Leadership The paradox of discipline

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- The idea discipline and freedom are mutually exclusive is a longstanding one, and Plato generally receives the credit. 

We often see this play out in our daily lives; try to tell a coworker to clean their desk or a child to clean their room, and you may hear them say you are encroaching upon their freedom. 

In a free society, it seems discipline is something not desired by an individual, since it is most often coupled with authority. Who wants to be told what to do? Nevertheless, all people still crave it. 

Even Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor cries out in a recent album, "I need your discipline ...."
Similarly, many look toward the military to teach them discipline. I have even heard some claim it as a reason for electing to serve. Despite many preconceptions, a discipline full of freedom can still exist. 

Achieving this sort of discipline is not as complex as one may think. Individuals need a secure sense of belonging and a thorough understanding of group goals and direction. In fostering this environment, leaders witness members freely participating with diverse ideas and backgrounds, while remaining adherent to group laws and goals. The alternate is members do not relate to the source of direction, and any results likely come from fear or bribes. 

The case of Army Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter exhibits various levels of understanding of the relationship between discipline and freedom. 

Porter's division fell under the command of Army Maj. Gen. John Pope in the Union's Northern Virginia Campaign. Pope brought an attitude of self assurance offensive to many of his men, including Porter. 

A message read, "Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves." 

About a month later, amidst what would come to be known as the Second Battle of Bull Run, Pope ordered Porter to attack Army Maj. Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's Confederate forces. 

However, Pope was unaware of a much larger Confederate force arriving on the battlefield en route to Jackson's forces. Due to his intelligence, Porter did not carry out the attack. 

The next day, Pope hastily reissued the order, and Porter reluctantly complied. Porter's division suffered a terrible defeat, and Pope went on to lose the battle. Shortly after, a court martial convicted Porter of disobedience and misconduct for his actions at Bull Run. 

More than 25 years later, a man with an understanding of discipline and freedom not only exonerated Porter, but also presented research finding Porter's reluctance to attack saved Pope's army from a worse defeat. The following year, in the graduation address at West Point, this man, Army Maj. Gen. John Schofield, eloquently delivered his understanding. 

"The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment," General Schofield said. "On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling, but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. 

"The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander," he continued. "He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself. While he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect towards others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself."