Learning Humility

I learned an interesting lesson on humility when I was a cadet in ROTC.  I was assigned a position as a safety team coordinator.  They gave us all positions of one sort or another in preparation for potential leadership positions in the air force.  So as a first year cadet at the bottom of the food chain, I was on the safety team. 

We really didn't have anything to do on the safety team, except to go around our little detachment and find safety hazards.  It was pretty ridiculous work because the detachment was always nearly spotless, and of course everything is up to code anyway.  But nonetheless, we did our jobs.  

One of the things we came up with as a potential safety hazard (or fire hazard) was desk clutter.  And so one day, in search of safety hazards and coming up empty, I found one place that needed help:  The Colonel's desk.

The Colonel was the highest ranking officer in the entire place. He was an old fighter pilot, in his 60's, probably on his last assignment before he retired.  If you think of what an Air Force Colonel should look like... this was him.

So giving no thought to the fact that he was the highest ranking officer in the whole detachment, and I was a lowly first year cadet... I went in and interrupted his busy day. I informed him that his desk was cluttered, that it was a fire hazard, and that he would have to clean it.  Can you imagine what his reaction was?  

Well, I know what my reaction would have been:

"Get out of here, you snot-nosed kid!  I'm a Colonel and I have important life-and-death type decisions to make here. I don't need you coming in here and interrupting my day when I'm trying to get all this work done!!  Now drop and give me 500 push-ups and get out of here before I run you out of the Air Force and put you on P.T until you are 103 years old!"  

To my utter shock and amazement, his reaction was nothing like what I would have expected.  Maybe it is because he was once a cadet.  But he snapped to, instantly.... without even thinking... as if coming to attention.  He then scrambled and quickly cleared his desk of all the excess clutter. And then with me watching, looked back up at me with a slight twinkle in his eye to see if I approved.  

"How's that?"  he said.

I was amazed.   I had just witnessed a true example of humility.  It is difficult to understand how a Full Bird Colonel, a fighter pilot, a decorated veteran put his rank and his pride aside for just one moment to accommodate the whim of a 19 year old cadet.  

Sometimes life's best life lessons come in unexpected places.  That day, I witnessed a living example of personal sacrifice and humility.  I could only one day hope that one day my character is like his.

Those are my thoughts. Thanks for listening.

Nate Naversen

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