[February 21, 2019] “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” So began a commencement speech by U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven to graduates at the University of Texas (see outtake at link here). This is, of course, an analogy; one that helps us to remember the real message which is to get organized and stay disciplined if we want to be successful. I say, keep your area clean.
University of Toronto Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson proposes in his latest book that there are some rules to how people can be successful. Rule #6 is “Set yourself in perfect order before you criticize the world.” Clean up your life. Have some humility. Be invested in your own improvement.
Perhaps it is ironic that with the growth of college ‘snowflakes’ and pajama boys living in their parent’s basements, personal responsibility has become a dirty word. Discipline helps keep the machinery of groups, teams, and organizations running smoothly. My experience in the military supports the idea that discipline – strong personal responsibility – is at the heart of ethical personhood.
My first assignment in the Army was as a Private (E-1, the lowest possible rank). Upon arriving at my first duty station in West Germany, the newbie Private Satterfield was required to attend an orientation by the company First Sergeant. I can still hear his thunderous voice in my head decades later. He said that there is only one kind of discipline in “his army” and that is “perfect discipline.”
The ‘first shirt,’ as First Sergeants are often called, said that he expected me to do my job every day without fail, do as my team leader instructed, stay away from drugs (although alcohol was okay), and make my bed each morning. He expected me to take responsibility for my actions. That was okay with me. I’m glad he was there. U.S. forces in Europe were the tripwire for a Soviet invasion. If we were to go to war, I wanted him in charge.
The lesson is simple. Keep your area clean. Responsibility means to do so without being told. Whether our workplace, living quarters, or any place we happen to be, keep it clean. Then we can do those tasks necessary to be successful.