When I was a youngster (second year student) at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973, I was contemplating leaving the Navy due to serious doubts about the morality of the war in Vietnam and my prospective engagement in it as a military man. When I shared these doubts with my father, he explained that I was trying to come to grips with the influence of my Catholic faith with its commitment to non-violence and love among fellow men, and my participation in a conflict in which it often seemed impossible to distinguish between innocent people and enemy fighters.
Dad explained that I would face this type of dilemma many times throughout my life, and that leaving the Navy to avoid being placed in the position of having to decide would not make it go away; that complex choices and decisions would always be present for me to face. He told me to look inward for the real answer and challenged me to examine what I truly believed before making a final decision.
Thirty years later, my father is long gone, but the message he gave me in June 1973 is still with me. Life presents us with a continual series of situations and decisions that force us to look inward to what we truly believe in order to make the choices that shape our lives and the world around us. I have passed these beliefs on to my own sons today.
I believe that we are the divine creations of an Almighty God, yet are weak and fallible human beings. That we are at once creatures more unique than individual flakes of snow, yet are essentially one and the same with fellow human beings across the globe and throughout human history, and would do well to remember that before giving in to hate or fear.
I believe that the most important lesson in life is not so much to accomplish as to try … that true achievement lies as much in the struggle as in attainment, and that our true contributions lie not in the accumulation of wealth or recognition, but in anonymous, honest effort on a daily basis.
I believe that true character is what you do ‘when no one if watching’. That in the end, our time on this earth will either have been spent in a worthy cause or in self-gratification. That the happiest people I know maintain a good balance between the two.
I believe that to assist us in finding our way, we are provided two compasses in life: one a magnetic compass that is at times affected by what is around us, and one a gyroscopic compass that always points our way to the ‘true north’. I believe that we will know when to use which compass.
I believe what Theodore Roosevelt once said, that ‘it is not the critic who counts’. That in the final analysis, the best we can hope for is to have succeeded in great achievements, or failed while ‘daring greatly’.
Note: This is a resubmission to replace a prior submission – thanks.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.