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Armchair philosophy to help Airmen think critically

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (AFNS) -- More is expected of Airmen today than ever before, said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, the 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, during his recent visit here.

Airmen need to be sharper and more well-rounded because the Air Force has fewer people to accomplish the same mission, he said recently.

The Lakenheath Philosophical Society, founded by Tech Sgt. Jason Harlan, a 48th Munitions Squadron conventional maintenance production supervisor, seeks to develop the critical-thinking skills Airmen need to better themselves, both in their jobs and in their day-to-day lives.

"If you're asked to solve a problem, or you're faced with some kind of decision, the way you approach problems and the way you're able to reason through the consequences are a direct reflection of the discipline you have and your ability to use reason and logic," Harlan said. "If you haven't finely tuned those things, you're going to make poor decisions, and those poor decisions are going to have ramifications."

Harlan created the philosophical society because he wanted to challenge himself, as well as others, to engage in the deeper questions of life: Why do we think and believe as we do?

"I wanted to have a place where people can come together and exchange ideas in a free and open environment," Harlan said. "However, those ideas will be challenged and those ideas will be discussed and debated in a respectful way. When you walk away, maybe your ideas will have been confirmed, maybe you have to readjust them, maybe you have another way of thinking about something. It gives you another perspective."

In order for an individual to experience personal growth, they need to be challenged, Harlan said.

Philosophy is already unwittingly a part of Airmen's lives in the military. The Air Force is replete with rhetoric, or slogans, steeped in philosophical ideas.

"Our slogans, like 'Step Up, Step In,' have some solid philosophical underpinnings," Harlan said. "I know it sounds cliché, but it does. Stepping into a situation and circumventing a potential problem, that's something that we should do. It's a behavior that the Air Force wants to facilitate."

Harlan assured that the subject matter isn't intended to be intimidating. In fact, it's already a part of everyone's day-to-day lives.

"The fact of the matter is, everyone is a philosopher, whether they know it or not," Harlan said. "A lot of the things that we discuss, you've already thought about. You've already been mulling them over your entire adult life and adolescence. Philosophy is not above anybody. Philosophy isn't below anyone either. It's right where everyone's at."

"Philosophy is far from being a futile endeavor or something that has no real bearing on the world," Harlan said on the topic of the upcoming meeting. "It has real applicability in everyone's life. Everybody is welcome to come. If you are able to think, and you're able to treat others with respect when they have differing opinions, then hey, this is the place for you."

Harlan stressed that the Lakenheath Philosophical Society is neither an atheistic nor theistic organization.

"The organization doesn't take positions on philosophical issues, other than the fact that we don't take positions," Harlan said.

For anyone thinking about going back to school, the discussions facilitated by the philosophical society could help Airmen transition back into an academic setting, or it could just be a fun place to kick around ideas, Harlan suggested.

"Plato wrote, in 'The Apology' quoting Socrates, 'The unexamined life is not worth living,'" Harlan said. "If that's true, the question is, have you examined your life, what you stand for, do you know why you are the way you are and why you think the way you do? If you can answer that in the affirmative, or you would like to dig deeper, then the philosophical society is for you."