In my noble Hillbilly culture we like sayin’s—simple phrases that we might not even know the origin of but that tell a whole story in just a few words.
When I was a boy, about 8 or 10 years old, I lived in a neighborhood with a bazillion kids. We all ran in and out of each other’s houses without so much as a civilized knock. In the hot, humid Tennessee summers, air conditioning is precious, particularly if money is tight, so kids fanning the doors in and out, in and out, in and out, will drive a parent to the edge of murder.
When she had finally hit the boiling point, my mother would shout, “That’s it, I told you to stay outside. Now the worm has turned.” What? What does that even mean? All we knew was that we best get outside and stay outside like we were told, or untold events would occur to our backside.
Turns out “the worm has turned” is from Shakespeare and refers to “a reversal of fortune.” With that one simple phrase, we understood the story Mom was telling. Who knew Mom knew Shakespeare?
I saw a window sticker on a pickup the other day with the thin blue line law enforcement symbol, and it said, “Got Your Six.” Meaning, that pickup driver supports law enforcement—hopefully not blind support that overlooks misbehavior, but genuine support that doesn’t believe all police are bad as a default first reaction.
It got me thinking about the origin and story of “got your six.”
You remember Snoopy and the Red Baron? They flew what’s called a biplane with a machine gun mounted in front of the pilot. In World War I, pilots flew biplanes the first time the battle was taken to the air. To shoot down an enemy plane, the pilot had to line up above or in front to shoot directly into the other plane and kill the enemy pilot or at least his engine. But the safest and most efficient position for the shot was to fly in behind the enemy, allowing continuous fire and a more likely strike.
In the military, they use a clock to inform position. Twelve o'clock is straight above you. Six o'clock is straight behind you and sets up the best strike zone. WWI pilots were the first to say, "I got your six," meaning they’ve got you covered so the enemy can't come up behind your back and kill you.
"I got your six" means "I got your back.” It declares a story of loyalty . . . I’m loyal to you. I’ve got you covered. You’re safe from enemies stabbing you in the back if I’m around.
I’m lucky. I grew up in a high-loyalty Hillbilly culture. We great Hillbillies will back our friends or family to the death. We “got your six.” Even if our friends or family are wrong, we’ll stand by them to the point of stupid. As Hillbillies we say, “You are fer me or agin me.” There is no Switzerland-neutral stand for Hillbillies. (We can't even spell Switzerland without spell-check.)
In my public life and even in my private life, I have backed people who I shouldn't have. I partly take it too far out of loyalty and partly because I just don’t want to be so quick to pile on like everyone else. And that is what I would want people to do for me . . . first assume I’m innocent until proven guilty.
It’s hard to find coworkers, employers, employees, friends or even family that “got your six.” These days, people are guilty as soon as they are charged, and social media makes that even worse. If someone is accused of something, most people’s first reaction is to believe the accusation.
It’s sad how fast rats respond to an unproven, unconfirmed alarm and leave a ship they think might sink even though there are no signs of actual water.
My friend Henry says, “I don’t understand people who run down the company and leadership that pays them money to raise their family and feed their kids. That is like peeing in your cereal and then complaining because it tastes bad.”
There’s a lot of digital courage out there today, criticizing, piling on, gossiping and hating while hidden behind an anonymous purple egg or avatar. I want to invent a new technology that makes every jerk on social media suddenly appear physically before the person they are mouthing off about. I think people would be a lot nicer. And man, could we all use some of that!
“I got your six.” I think we should all learn to do that for the people and the organizations we care about. We should have the character quality of loyalty. We shouldn’t stab people in the back. We should earn people’s trust by being trustworthy. We should be known for standing up for people, maybe even too long.
So, I’m going to work harder to be a good friend, to be loyal, to wag more and bark less . . . Because hey, “I got your six.”
I want my words and actions to tell that story.