He comes to the platoon, the first week on the job. He is five minutes late to a briefing with the 1st Sgt. since he was busy working out the logistics of the new truck he just bought (which has an APR that’s through the clouds). He’s not good at PT, but you think that maybe he’s got potential when it comes to more tactical skills — he doesn’t seem stupid, after all. And he is alright, but he keeps making the same mistakes over and over. When you speak to him about it, his eyes are glazed over, and he nods, responding with a “Roger, Sergeant.” You can tell that he knows he messed up, he’s beating himself up about it, and yet he continues to make the same mistakes over and over — at the end of the day, these mistakes might not only get him killed, but they might get his friends killed too. They might get you killed.

Most military veterans know this guy, and if you don’t, then I hate to say, but it might have been you. That is, he’s that guy who, in one way or another, always falls into trouble. He breaks a bone at the worst time possible, and before you hear the name of who broke what, you know who it is. Oh, and it’s never their fault either — they always have an excuse for everything.

But I know plenty of people like that, and I’m not in the military.

You’re absolutely right. People like this are everywhere.

Maybe she’s a waitress, and maybe she has worked several jobs before that — she was fired from each one, and she’s got a story about how she was a victim in each and every circumstance. Her failed relationships in the past aren’t her fault, of course. And if you were to sit down and listen to each and every story independently from one another, they are very heartfelt and convincing. They make honest-to-god sense. String two or three of them together? A streak of bad luck, perhaps. But as the hits just keep on coming, these events begin to paint a picture. They being to illuminate the common denominator in each struggle in that person’s life.

These are the problem children.

However, when their nature as a problem child is revealed, other people usually have one of two reactions: they either distance themselves entirely in order to mitigate any damage to themselves, or they haphazardly try to “fix” the seemingly stupid problems one at a time. “She lost a job? Tell her to buckle down next time and push through it!” “He can’t pass that military school? Tell him to grow a pair and pay attention next time!” They may even attempt to walk them through problem by problem, not realizing that something greater is at work.

Just as there is a common denominator in all of those problems (the problem child themselves), there is also a common denominator with all of their problems. The person is probably not aware of this root problem — sometimes they are too proud to look inward, other times they simply don’t understand themselves very well.

For example: Let’s say someone has gone through countless “hopeful” business ventures, broken up from several serious relationships, and seems to have an explosive drama with friends every year or so. The common denominator is the person, but that’s not the end of it. That person may not have the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection means self-improvement (how can you fix something if you can’t identify what is wrong?), and so any issue at a job that anyone faces is met with resistance, instead of self-reflection. Helping that person understand the value of self-reflection may help solve many of their problems, without you having to address any of them head on yourself (you can’t fix someone’s life for them, after all).

Or instead of a lack of self-reflection, maybe the person tends to self-destruct, and that could be rooted in self-esteem issues or problems ranging back to their childhood. Some of it gets quite complex and might require professional help to even scratch the surface.

Whatever it is, there always tends to be one or two root issues, buried very deep beneath the surface. No one is just bad for no reason.

In the military, you usually have to try to help these people along — you don’t have a choice. You can’t always fire someone, and sometimes you need to buckle down and figure out what the root problem is, or else that person will become a problem child over and over again until your head feels like it’s going to explode. It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or if it’s their fault. If there are ways to work toward a solution, then you don’t really have a choice but to try to fix it, because lives are at stake.

The same could be said about family in many cases (though sometimes it is healthier to cut ties, like in the event of an abusive parent or some equivalent scenario). Either way, the first step is to know that there is at least one, if not more, root causes behind this kind of behavior. Ideally, that will lead to making the problem child not so problematic anymore, which is good for everyone. Because if these types of people hurt anyone the most, it’s themselves.

Featured image courtesy of the Air Force Reserve, by Tech Sgt. Carlos J. Trevino.