Battleship or Lighthouse?

I love the humorous, true story told by Frank Koch in the magazine of the U.S. Naval Institute.

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell.

The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.””

“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”

Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”

The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.”

“I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”

By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.

“Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

Stephen Covey used this story in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, to illustrate how life’s fundamental truths and principles are like lighthouses.

I am surprised how many modern people do not understand that all of life has an underlying structure. There are certain universal laws and principles that God has built into our earthly existence and we violate them at our own peril.

The way of wisdom seeks to discern and understand these principles and live in harmony with them. The way of the fool is to be oblivious to the fact that life is ruled by these principles or to just completely ignore them because their inner thought is, “I am going to live how I want to live and follow my own life principles.”

Cecil B. DeMille who produced the epic movie, The Ten Commandments said, “It is impossible for us to break (God’s) law. We can only break ourselves against the law.” People fail to discern that reality eventually forces us to honor God’s principles, otherwise, they will break and destroy us.

One of my favorite stories that illustrate this truth is an actual event that took place back in the 1960s.

It was a turbulent time in our country when young people did not like the structure they witnessed in the lives of their parents. They desired to be liberated from the restrictions that the culture imposed upon them. Many of them dropped out of mainstream society and lived in communes.

It was later in the decade that a group of hippies living in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco decided that hygiene was a middle-class hang-up they could do without. Though baths and showers, while not actually banned, were frowned upon. The novelist Tom Wolfe was intrigued by these hippies, who he said: “sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start out from zero.” They aspired to be totally autonomous and free.

Before long, the hippies’ aversion to modern hygiene had consequences that were as unpleasant as they were unforeseen. Wolfe gives this description:

At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors who were treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago that they had never even picked up Latin names, such as the mange, the grunge, the scroff and the rot.

The itching and the mange began to vex these hippies, leading them to seek help from the local free clinics. Step by step, they were forced to rediscover for themselves the necessity of modern hygiene.

Clearly, all of life has an underlying design and structure. We have certain universal principles that are built into life, and we violate them at our own risk.

Wisdom recognizes the importance of honoring this underlying structure. This is why Solomon says, “Wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.” Ecclesiastes 7:12

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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