Life should be defined by what we are for, not what we are against. ~ Don Robison, CDR, USCG Retired
A good friend of mine just published a book of stories. Each of these stories hold a special meaning and a little bit of “inside joke” to someone who has spent some time on the seas. You might wonder, what does this have to do with the theme of the site? Two things. First, I think Don is a great storyteller and you’ll actually enjoy this. Second, he’s finishing his post-graduate stuff in Instructional Design at Old Dominion University and is doing some really cool research into the connections between aesthetic and motivation. So, there’s definitely a connection.
This is the first story from the book and the sample. I love the conclusion and the motto that follows the end of the story. Not only is it an expression of a perfect motto. It also exposes the heart and character of the author – a man of passion, compassion, and the just right perspective.
In these times where we regularly see one citizen pitted against another in a verbal battle of ideals, I think this message could bring a little bit of sanity to the debate.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.
I suspected the interview would be tough from the beginning. LT Sellar grinned at me, cast an amused glance at his two colleagues, and asked the first question: “Now, Mr. Robison, why do you want to be a Coast Guard officer besides…” and here he looked down at my application essay and read from it; “…feeling the wind in your hair and salt spray on your face?”
That line sounded great in my head when I drafted it. Now, I understand that it was a little over the top. But for that single sentence, the essay was a pretty good one.
I answered his question in halting fashion, probably as well as could be expected given that my “wind in the hair” comment was obviously the punch-line to a just-before-the-interview joke.
CDR Williams, the head of this Coast Guard Officer Candidate School interview panel, guided the questioning to more routine subjects. Within a few minutes, things seemed to be going smoothly. I spoke eloquently about law enforcement and about national defense. There were questions about politics and I could tell the interviewers were trying to get a sense for my awareness of current events. Things settled into a predictable rhythm and I was feeling much more comfortable with the proceedings. I hit my stride, so to speak.
LTJG Ely, the youngest officer on this panel, asked questions about my leadership and management styles. I defined leadership and gave examples of my experience. We pondered a few case scenarios. I described three strengths and three weaknesses. My goal was to be honest and transparent, but not give the panel a reason to reject me. It is difficult to be honest and transparent in a job interview.
Each officer asked questions and I answered them as I was able. Then, CDR Williams flipped through my application package and asked, “Mr. Robison, I see from your resume that you have been involved with several humanitarian organizations. That is great. I am interested in how you feel about your participation in armed conflict. Would you feel comfortable bearing arms in defense of our nation?”
I responded, “Commander, I believe a man’s duty is to fight the evil of his time, regardless of its strength or hopes of final victory. Yes, I am comfortable with the idea of fighting for our country.”
Wow! Where did that come from? What a great line! “…A man’s duty is to fight the evil of his time…” I searched my memory: was that Churchill? Was that Grant or Lee? Then I remembered. A clear image of Gandalf the Wizard from the Lord of the Rings trilogy came to my mind. He was talking to Frodo.
“Please,” I prayed, “don’t let him ask me where I got that.”
Right on cue, CDR Williams asked, “That is profound, is that your original thought?”
I couldn’t lie. I answered, “No, sir.”
Please, don’t ask me who said that.
As if reading my mind, the Commander asked, “Where did you get that idea?”
“That quote is from a book by J.R.R. Tolkien.”
I banked on the odds that he had not read the books. The blockbuster movies had not yet been made. Thankfully, the questions moved on to other subjects. They asked about my math aptitude, and I was able to point to my good SAT Math scores. They asked about my engineering experience and I was able to talk about cars I had worked on and boats I had repaired. The interview meandered here and there for about five minutes.
We had moved on from Tolkien.
Until, to my horror, young LTJG Ely struck the table with his palm and fairly shouted, “WAIT! Wait! Tolkien! Isn’t Tolkien the one who wrote those books about the elves and fairies?”
CDR Williams looked up from the application papers and over at LTJG Ely with concern in his eyes. LT Sellar looked at me and smirked. He was definitely a smirker.
Here was my interviewee tactical dilemma: should I set the record straight and say there were elves but definitely not fairies? Perhaps he was thinking of hobbits rather than fairies? Do I lie and say no, denying any real connection with my beloved Tolkien?
I was beaten. I looked at LTJG Ely, then to the others, and simply responded, “Yes.”
I was not selected for OCS at that time.
But, that saying became my motto: “A person’s duty is to fight the evil of the day, regardless of its strength or hopes of final victory.” It was one day about ten years later when I quoted that line to a friend that I realized that it is not right. In fact, it is almost exactly wrong. I think it gives evil too great a place in our lives.
Life should be about what we are for, not what we are against. I believe the motto should be, “Our duty is to fight for the good, the just, the merciful, and the beautiful regardless of its strength or hopes of final victory.”
Life should be defined by what we are for, not what we are against.
~ Don Robison, Tales of a Simple Sailor