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Guest editorial: Make your bed perfectly, and don't ring that bell

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Posted on June 8, 2014 |
By Emerson Lynn



You may never look at an unmade bed the same upon reading the commencement address delivered by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven to University of Texas graduates.

It was part of his forced routine 36 years ago when he left college for basic SEAL training in Coronado, Calif. The beds had to be made perfectly. Every morning. The lesson being that even tough guys make their beds and that if you can’t “get the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

Changing the world was the theme of Mr. McRaven’s address, and it had nothing to do with being a warrior, hardened to the task of combat. It had everything to do with understanding sacrifice, tolerance, discipline, the will to succeed, the inevitability of failure, and how each applies to the real world the rest of us inhabit.

He told of the uniform inspection, when despite the fact that your uniform was perfectly pressed and the buckle immaculate, you flunked. Those who flunked were required to run, fully clothed into the surf and then roll around I the sand until they were covered with sand. They were called “sugar cookies” and they were required to remain cold, wet and sandy for the remainder of the day.

Sounds stupid. You do something perfectly and are still punished.

But how many times have we all done things perfectly and still felt like a “sugar cookie?”

Get over it. Move on.

Then, there was the “circus,” an invited event for those who failed to meet the physical standards required of the wannabe SEALS. It was an extra two hours of calisthenics, which was piled on the six hours just finished.

It happened to everyone. Even Superman.

The lesson: “You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.”

Sound familiar? Do nay of us know anyone who has succeeded who has not tasted failure’s bitterness? Do you think SEAL instructors had out trophies to all those who bothered to show up?

Probably not.

There is the shark swim. At night. In the waters of San Diego Bay, which is frigid. And the bay is loaded with sharks. The instructors’ directions are clear: If a shark begins to circle, don’t show fear. If it darts toward you, punch it in the nose.

We’d add to the advice by suggesting that it might be prudent to always keep a “buddy” between you and the shark, but the lesson is plain: The world is full of sharks; they have no conscience. Deal with it.

The admiral spoke of practicing underwater attacks against enemy shipping, where the SEALS were dumped two miles from the target, at night, and required to swim the distance underwater armed with a compass and a depth gauge. When the swimmer reached the keel (the target), the sound of the ship’s machinery was deafening and it was pitch black, zero visibility. He said it was the ultimate test of one’s physical and mental strength.

The lesson: “If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.”

Not many of us are faced with the need to blow up enemy ships, but no one skips through life without encountering chaos at one level or another.

In the world of SEAL training the ninth week is “hell week.’ For six days no one sleeps, the physical and mental harassment is perpetual. There is the trip to the Mud Flats, where for 15 hours you are required to lie in the freezing mud forbidden to move. He told the graduates of the single off-key voice that began to sing with eight hours remaining. Others join in, giving hope to all.

As the admiral observed: “If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — can change the world by giving people hope.

His final point focused on the brass bell in the center of the compound. If you didn’t like being a sugar cookie, or making your bed, or doing calisthenics, or getting up at 5 a.m., all you had to do was walk to the compound’s center and ring the bell. You could leave.

But people who quit by ringing the bell don’t change the world.

The admiral’s parting words: “Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today and what we started here will indeed have changed the world for the better.”

Words to live by.

Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger

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