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Esprit de corps (pronounced es-pree deh core) translates from French as group spirit. It is a synonym for words like morale, comradeship, and purpose. Normally, this phrase translates only as positive group spirit. In its strictest sense, it applied only to military groups, who together form a sense of purpose and comradeship. Yet it is often also used in common language to refer to any group that appears united and protective of its members.
Many different groups, like kids in a classroom, a scout troop, a parent’s club, a political organization, or thousands of others can said to be unified by esprit de corps. Where it does not exist, disorganization can prevail.
One example of esprit de corps can be found regularly on television shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The host and his team rally communities into assisting worthy families who need homes. Most of the shows feature many community members who are pleased to show their sense of truly belonging to a community by helping others. Such sense of purpose can make quite a difference in the world.
In military units, esprit de corps is essential, since soldiers who feel part of a team are most likely to protect each other. A demoralized unit is one lacking in morale, and it is by maintaining group spirit that soldiers are able to survive the rigors and horrors of battle and risk to life and limb. This is why military groups are often divided into units, usually groups of people who have trained together, and will fight together should the need exist. By establishing close ties between soldiers working in an army, it is always hoped that a sense of comradeship will develop.
A lovely example of the need of esprit de corps in organized sports is the moving film Remember the Titans, a biopic about a high school football team in the southern US that for the first time integrated black and white players. The goal of the coach is to help his players overcome their differences and accept each other so that a sense of purpose and positive feelings help the team. They further must accept him, an African American, as leader of the team, which was challenging given the prevailing views at the time.
A particularly effective moment in the film is Coach Boone’s impassioned speech on the grounds where the Gettysburg Battle was fought. His words, “If we don’t come together on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed,” express his strong desire for the team to develop the esprit de corps necessary in a racially divided world, and in the competitive sport of football.