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Friday, December 16, 2005

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

Taking care
of business

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think the way to make the world better is to stick their noses in other people’s business.

At one point, as a young Marine, I was assigned to an outfit that did not meet my expectations. It was sloppy. From appearance to mission accomplishment, it was sloppy.

Now, I had no rank to speak of, but it still made me nuts.

Not too long into that assignment I shared my dismay with an old Marine from way back, and he had the answer, like old Marines, and old everybodys, often do.

Over a cold fermented beverage, he explained to me the facts of life.

I was a private. I could not order anyone to do anything, and had no control over anything except me.

That was the key, he said.

“You take care of Pvt. Briggs. You make sure your uniform is perfect. You make sure your weapon is spotless. You make sure you know your job inside and out. You do your job to perfection. You be the best Marine you know how to be.”

Above all, he said, don’t let your standards sink. You maintain your standards.

I answered that I could do all that, but I still did not like being part of a sad sack outfit. What I wanted to do was become an instant Gunnery Sergeant and start kicking tail - alas, Gunnery Sergeants are created over long periods of time.

The old Marine told me that if I maintained my standards, even as a lowly private, it would be infectious.

He said first it would be the guy in the next bunk, and then it would be the squad, and eventually the whole outfit.

Now, I really did not believe any of this would work. But, I did make a conscious effort not to let my standards slip, no matter what.

It’s not as easy as it sounds - maintaining standards when the guys around you do not.

I wasn’t obnoxious about it. I just took care of Smokey’s little world and made it the best Smokey could make it, from the shine on my boots to my attitude.

In the meantime, a couple more newly minted Marines were assigned to the same outfit. They followed suit.

And, it worked. Or something did. In a year my outfit had the snap and pop that a good outfit ought to have.

Did I do it?

No, not really. The rest of the guys did it. All I did was maintain my standards and a lot of other folks began taking care of theirs.

The lesson I took from that experience stuck with me.

None of us are omnipotent, thank goodness.

We cannot force people to do what we think they ought to on a daily basis, for the most part. There is still a modicum of freedom for the average guy or gal in America.

But we try. From big towns to small towns, I have watched the process. Businessmen, community leaders, religious leaders, government officials, neighbors; all spending huge amounts of time scolding and threatening, trying to force their neighbors to do this or that for the good of the community, or society, or whatever.

And it never works. You cannot force people to excel. If a person, or a town, is going to excel at anything, it has to be voluntary.

Rather than spending all that time and effort trying to force their neighbors to excel, they would be better served by spending that time and effort on the part of their town they really do control - making their home, their family, their business, their job, outstanding.

Excellence is contagious. You don’t get it from force, or intimidation, or nagging. You get it from leadership, and the first step in leadership is taking care of the part of the word God put you in charge of.

If enough people do that, the rest will fall into place.

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