The Work Never Ends by John Johnston

In my writing this week I have been thinking about how every person who keeps a gun in their home or carries a gun in public ought to be a thoughtful risk analyst. A recent post on Facebook by John Johnston initially caught my eye because it addressed this issue of risk and benefit head on (Point #1).

Being one of the deepest thinkers I know, I was not surprised that John used this initial observation as a jumping off point to reflect more deeply on training priorities and orientations (Points #2-4). But what made reading his lengthy post most worthwhile for me was his connection of these gun specific issues to broader perspectives on living a good life (Points #5-6).

Too often we get so tied up in our immediate tasks at hand — writing a book, teaching a class, laying down mulch, fixing a deck, hitting a decent forehand return, picking the right holster, perfecting a draw from concealment — that we lose sight of our broader reasons for undertaking those tasks.

John’s essay calls us back to those broader reasons. Because he does so in plain language without succumbing to the temptation to invoke Latin cliches like memento mori or carpe diem, I asked him if I could reprint his essay here. Below, reprinted with permission from his Ballistic Radio site, is John Johnston’s “The Work Never Ends.”

John Johnston teaching Technical Handgun: Tests and Standards course in Dahlongea, GA, June 2020. Photo by David Yamane

The Work Never Ends

by John Johnston

Reading some comments on various posts around the internet, as well as some private and public conversations I’ve had lately have had me reflecting on what *I* think are some things to consider if you’re interested in the study, instruction, or practice of applied violence. Just to give you some insight to assess where I’m coming from: I’ve been shooting for 34 years now, following the community for the last 25 or so years, and working inside of it in one capacity or another for around 10. I’m sitting somewhere over 2,000 hours of instruction received, and I am both personally and professionally familiar with violence, though certainly not to the level of some of my peers. Probably most importantly, I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I’ve been lucky enough to have people help me learn from. I share this information as a data point to provide insight for people reading this, NOT as an appeal to authority, which are unfortunately all too common in our industry.  

1. Before you ever consider any “good” you might do with a gun, consider all of the ways it can go “wrong”. Be imaginative, there’s more ways it can go wrong than you think, and they ABSOLUTELY can go wrong for you. “Safety” is a treacherous and unending mountainous path in bad weather, not a summit you obtain. Additionally “safety” encompasses WAY more than just basic gun handling and adherence to the four rules. Safety is reflected in pretty much every aspect of our life in weird ways you’re probably not thinking about. Google “Claude Werner Negative Outcomes” then become obsessive about actively avoiding each and every one of them. Try to examine every decision you make in terms of risk versus benefit. If you can’t immediately identify the benefit to a behavior or action, there probably isn’t one.  

2. The shooting portion is the LEAST important part of all of this unless your specific interest is in the gun game arena, and even then I’d say it’s not the primary focus. Put more time into understanding use of force law, principles of de-escalation, decision making under stress, physical fitness, medical, gun-handling, and the general principle of not being a massive pustulous dick to your fellow human beings. If you’re *actually* (see point #3) good on those things THEN start chasing that sub-second draw from concealment. It’s incredibly easy to place the cart before the horse, or even worse misplace the horse entirely and accidentally set fire to your cart.  

3. People who are bad at things have a tendency to wildly overestimate their level of skill. Inversely, people who are good at things tend to underestimate their skill. I say that to say this: If you ever find yourself really eager to throw your capabilities in someone else’s face to prove/disprove a point, make yourself feel better, or have a laugh at someone else’s expense maybe tap the brakes ever so slightly? Chances are you’re not as big a fish as you think you are, your pond is really small, or both. Additionally, you need to be able to acknowledge your own abilities and skills so that you can confidently rely on them, while also keeping ego out of it. It’s a delicate balancing act that’s hard for almost everyone to navigate successfully at all times.  

4. Talk less, listen more, and learn how to ask questions that don’t come across as challenges. Our society as a whole is losing the ability to communicate constructively and effectively with one another. There are people with literal lifetimes worth of experience willing to help you with this stuff, but they don’t owe you patience, respect, or deference just because you showed up. You can certainly earn those things, but it’s important to remember that they’re not free, don’t come quick, and aren’t something you should expect just because you can do something that looks really really cool on instagram, or have an opinion that you googled an hour ago. Someone who is trying to learn comes across A LOT differently than someone looking to impress upon everyone else how awesome they are. Oftentimes, we are our own worst enemy, blaming others, while failing to acknowledge our own shortcomings. If you find yourself thinking in terms of “winning” or “losing” a conversation, I would humbly submit that you are setting fire to your cart and your horse is nowhere to be seen.  

5. Strive to be kind and encouraging in every interaction you have, especially the ones you have with yourself. If a baby begins to take their first steps and face plants no one worth knowing is going to stand next to that kid and say “Stupid baby, I can’t believe you can’t walk yet!” What SHOULD happen is that someone is going to praise that child’s efforts, help support them when they get frustrated or fail, and most of all celebrate their gains when they are achieved. This becomes INCREDIBLY important for us because there are absolutely going to be times when you make mistakes. When those mistakes happen: acknowledge them, take responsibility and ownership of them, learn whatever you need to not make the same mistake again, then let go of any negative feeling you have towards yourself for making the mistake in the first place. As my friend and co-worker Chris Cypert once said to me (I’m paraphrasing) “When necessary one needs to be adept at slapping themselves in the face, and patting themselves on the back in equal measure..” Too much of either is a bad thing, and doesn’t result in any real growth as a person.  

6. “The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Jack Kornfield. Life is very fleeting, and it’s certainly too short to not try and enjoy to its fullest. Actively train yourself to find joy in the process of learning, growth, self-improvement and discovery. At the end of the day, all of this is supposed to be fun, or at least not actively not-fun. As my friend, co-worker, and mentor Melody Lauer once said “Don’t let your desire to protect your life keep you from living a life worth protecting.” This is the only life you get, it’s up to you what you do with it. “I’ll start working on this tomorrow” is something I see a lot of people say whenever they’re presented with something they think they might want to work on. The problem is “tomorrow” has this funny way of turning into “never”, and I can’t imagine a sadder thing than someone looking back at their life and realizing they never actually lived it for fear of failing.      

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and none of these are concepts or ideas that are original to me. I hate to use this word as it’s somewhat of a cliché to say, but I have been truly blessed by the amount of patience, support, wisdom, kindness, and knowledge that people have shared with me over the years. Every single thing I talk about here, are things that required active effort for me to internalize and incorporate into my life. I’ve been bad at all of them at various points, truthfully I’m still bad at some of them, but I’m making a daily effort to improve from where I was yesterday. In the end, dedicating ourselves to doing the work is all that any of us can do, and no matter how good we get, the work never ends.

2 comments

  1. Marvelous and spot on reflection.
    Meditate on this and incorporate it into your daily behaviors.
    You will be a better person.
    Thanks!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.