I was thinking about this topic while jogging yesterday morning and decided to write them down. These “things I learned (or was taught) growing up” deal mainly with what you could call “First Article” issues, meaning how life in this world works, although there are a few exceptions. I don’t claim to fulfill all these things perfectly, but I thought I’d share my thoughts.
1. Only God is perfectly faithful
As people, we are tainted by sin. We will disappoint the expectations of others and will ourselves be disappointed by the behavior of other people. At the end of the day, people, money, power, and pleasure will leave us wanting. Only God is always faithful. St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they find heir rest in the Lord, and I think that is a very true statement.
2. Persistance, efficiency, and perseverance win out over skill and resources
This point is up for debate, but I think it’s been proven throughout history. The ancient Greeks defeated the Persians based upon this principle. The Greeks were outnumbered and yet defended their homeland against repeated Persian invasions because they would just not quit. Spartan mothers told their children to either come home carrying their shield or on it (meaning come home victorious or come home dead). Likewise, the armies of the Roman Republic eventually defeated the mighty Hannibal and his Carthaginian hordes because they would just not quit. The Romans would lose tens of thousands of young men every time they faced Hannibal’s armies in action, but refused to give up their Republic. The Romans had a saying coined by Ovid: “A drop of water hollows a stone, not by force, but by continuously dripping.” The Romans conquered the known world by “continuously dripping.”
3. A Republic is a precious thing that is easily lost
The Romans had a glorious republic for hundreds of years, from the time they expelled the Etruscan kings to the time of the emperors. Their Republic was characterized by the rule of law, the equality of citizens under that law, and the moderation of personal political ambition for the sake of the Republic. In a Republic the country is bettered by the prosperity of its citizens. However, the Romans began to allow men to gain more power for themselves by overlooking the rule of law and using the law to their advantage. It began with small encroachments, such as allowing men to take office who were not qualified due to age and allowing men to hold office for more terms than legally allowed. Eventually it culminated in the rise of Pompey and Caesar who took the Republic hostage in their quest for personal power. Pompey and Caesar may have died, but the Republic died with them, ending with the reign of Augustus. Augustus was a great man, ruling the new Roman Empire with wisdom and moderation, but his successors were not so wise and moderate as he. Special note that a Republic is not the same as a Democracy; the democracy of Athens degenerated into mob rule and despotism by those who were able to control the mob.
4. Give your seniors the position of honor when walking
One thing I learned in college while in Army ROTC was to walk to the left of those who are senior to myself. This is a courtesy extended to those to whom we wish to show respect. This is, however, overruled by #5 below, when applicable.
5. Walk on the “road-side” when walking with women and children
Men should walk on the section of the sidewalk that is closest to the road, allowing women and children to walk on the inward side. In this way, men provide a shield from cars, dirt, and water. When I lived in Ft. Riley, Kansas as a kid (about 12 years old) I wanted to take a girl to Burger King for lunch (for anyone who has lived on an Army post you’ll understand the ubiquity of Burger Kings). Her father quizzed and then lectured me on the proper way to treat a lady. This was the main thing that has stuck with me after all these years.
6. It is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission
This was drilled into me in Army ROTC in college. If I asked for permission to do something from our sergeant or captain, they would repeat this phrase and then make me do pushups. The point they were trying to make is that we have to be able to take the initiative when needed and not be paralyzed by the inability to make a calculated decision for ourselves. In life we can’t always go appeal to someone else to make a decision for us, we have to have the moral courage to make it ourselves.
7. Don’t curse or spit, especially in public and most especially in front of women and children
Men ought to be able to act in a civilized manner in public. We’re not uncouth animals, wallowing in our own filth. We should be able to conduct ourselves around other people with a sense of dignity. Related to this is the requirement to actually be fully clothed in public: shirts, shoes, pants/shorts at a minimum.
8. Wear boots when hiking, bring something that will help you start a fire, and bring plenty of socks
I used to go hiking and camping a lot during my college years in the forests of North Georgia. I would always wear long pants and leather boots when hiking to protect my legs and feet. There have been times where I’ve stepped on a rock with a copperhead lying underneath or walked through thorny brush. Fresh socks are essential to being comfortable when out in the woods; nothing is worse than hiking with wet feet. Likewise, the ability to build a fire is mandatory. This gives you the chance to boil water and cook food. It is also psychologically helpful to be able to sit in front of a fire while camping.
9. Personal discipline will help you go far
This is the discipline to get up in the morning, go to work, and do all the other tasks required in life. It is also the discipline that forgoes current opportunities in pursuit of the long term plan. Discipline is shown externally by being neatly groomed and dressed; these are signs that a person will put forward effort in other areas of life. Combine this with motivation and great things can be accomplished.
10. ”You’ll have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead”
This is another little gem from ROTC. Whenever we would complain that we were tired, our sergeant would tell us, “You’ll have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.” Life is short, God has given us many vocations in life, and we are called to carry out our vocations faithfully. At times we will be tired and exhausted, but nothing beats the opportunity to live out a life of vocation. A corollary of this that I often was told is, “Walk like you have a purpose in life.” Usually this was in the form of: “Simms, what’s taking you so long? Walk like you have a purpose in life.” The point is that we’re not here to lumber through life, we ought to have a purpose. As Christians we understand our purpose to be the living out of our God-given vocations.