The Inuit, sometimes called Eskimo by outsiders, lived off the land for many
hundreds of years in Nunavut, one of the world's harshest environments in
North America's far north. In their struggle for survival, the only apparent
suicides were elderly or infirm, who saw themselves as burdens when the
village had to move on. In the past 50 years, Inuit society shifted from
being lords of the Arctic to being wards of welfare. For generations, boys
were brought up to be hunters. With the destruction of fur markets after
anti-fur campaigns in the United States and Europe, unemployment rates in
northern villages have risen above 50 percent. Contrary to their famous
never-give-up attitude, Inuit suicides are now 700% greater than the national
average for Canada.
In Nunavut, after the Inuit achieved their own territorial government in 1999,
suicides actually increased.
Tim Atherton talked to hundreds of native youths, some depressed and suicidal,
when he was an Anglican minister in Iqaluit and in the Northwest Territories
in the early 1990's. He's now a photographer in Yellowknife. "Young people
would tell me, 'We are seeing all this stuff on TV, we watch the hockey games,
we read the magazines -- yet it is all out of reach for us'. They graduate
from high school and there is nothing to do at the end of it. Life had become
so fearful and hopeless that death actually seemed more welcoming."
Life was much more difficult in Nunavut hundreds of years ago. Their greatest
new problem is attitude. The lives portrayed on television
are not real, they are scripted, and problems are scripted to
be solved within the hour. Most kids have no life experience, except what's
portrayed by their friends and family. They become actors on a stage, in a
very small theatre of life, with a very limited, and often inaccurate script.
When I was seven, I started reading a true story about a great naval hero, who
went to sea on a warship when he was 12 and was in sole charge of one of the
ship's boats and its seamen crew at 13. Sailors of that time were rough, and
battles were fought face-to-face. It kicked me out of that very small theatre.
Strangely, I found the book in my home. Nobody knew where it came from. Look
for a book about someone you can be proud about.
The first thing kids need to learn is that they are themselves a valuable
person. This value must be a personal, individual realization and not depend
on comparison to anyone else. Nobody tries to be a better person, unless they
believe they are themselves worth the effort. Without value, life itself makes
In real life, we were saved from a hopeless situation (below) because one man
sacrificed himself to fix the problem. There's more about Tony on the next
page. Tony spent the next three days screaming in pain, but he was always
cheerful. He kept saying it was the most wonderful thing he has ever done,
and he was still really happy that he did it. He was offered strong
medications for pain, for sleep, and even for death, but he refused them all
so he could talk with us. Attitude really does make
a big difference.
In a seemingly hopeless situation, I had to somehow convince an already
suicidal crew, not to give up. Without everyone's best effort, we could not
have survived. We were all facing almost certain injury, so it became a
choice between "quick and painless death", and my "six months of horribly
tortured death". At least that's how the crew saw it. I always believe in
doing what feels right morally and spiritually, especially when lives are at
stake. That had been my driving power for weeks. I wondered if it could
become burned out from overuse.
I was cornered into presenting my arguments in favor of "six months of tortured
death" to the crew. I expected reality would be kinder than that, but arguing
degrees of torture is a blind alley. I presented all the usual arguments, but
they were insufficient. I suggested we could hand out forty-fives, and every
man could choose for himself, each morning, if he wanted to face the new day,
or blow his brains out with the forty-five; I was not arguing for tortured
death, but only for the individual right to choose. The youngest kid had
blonde hair, and looked like he was 14. Everyone started staring at him like
they were trying to imagine what he would look like with his brains blown out.
Once he noticed this, he started crying. I put my arm around him, and said
this was only an example. If it comes to that, I'm sure the corpsman can come
up with something painless, quick, and much less messy. Soon, he was smiling,
and said: sounds good to me. Younger people become emotional more easily, but
they also bounce back quickly, and are visibly stronger after the experience.
They also don't hide emotions, so they can be a good barometer for the whole
Muhammed deserves everyone's thanks, regardless of religion and even without
religion, for nearly ending the fratricide that was common in his day, and my
thanks for this inspired idea. From the beginning, he was disturbed by the
immorality that was common in his day, particularly the killing of baby girls
for the financial benefit of the family. Outlawing the practice didn't work,
and telling people the practice was morally wrong was ineffective. Christians
had been doing that very forcefully for 500 years. The burn-in-hell approach
was ineffective at best, and at worst vainglorious malice. The Koran paints
a picture of heaven which includes all those murdered little girls, who
occasionally wander by to inquire about why they were killed.
The crew still wanted to know why "six months of tortured death" was a better
choice. They knew the other choice included the very real risk of nuclear war,
but they wanted me to explain why one choice should feel better morally and
spiritually. This sounds cavalier; for us it was deadly serious. You can't
reach a consensus in horrible situations, without horrible discussion. I had
only one thought left, from the above lesson. I asked them if they believed
they would go somewhere after they died, or if they thought it would just be
over. They all believed they would go someplace after they died. When I
suggested, if there was a nuclear war, all their friends and relatives would
be there too, that only made it sound better. Then I said, when they find out
we were here when it all started, they will want to know why we did not at
least try to do something to stop it.
Of course, we all accomplish something, as long as we stick around and try.
Everyone can be proud of giving their best effort in a difficult situation.
Success is briefly enjoyable, but it's not required. The "charge of the light
brigade", or "remember the Alamo" are extreme examples, and there are millions
of ordinary examples.
Chester Nimitz described numerous real-life heroes in World War Two by saying
there are no extraordinary men; there are only extraordinary challenges, which
ordinary men must somehow manage to overcome. Of course, Nimitz and his men
already knew about courage. They all had friends or associates who had been
killed or injured in battle. His men knew the courageous sacrifice of others
who had gone before them up close and personal. This courage is not just
personal strength; it includes a humble and loving quality, from knowing the
sacrifice of others. This loving quality appears like cheerfulness to
outsiders, but the feeling goes much deeper than this cheerful appearance.
In scary situations, every success includes learning about courage, character,
and humanity. It's important to address first what does not work. Sympathy
and derision both make things worse. If a person's value depends on comparison
to others, instead of making himself do better, he tries only to make others
Derision at best appears to be motivated by the need to say "I am better than
you are". This diminishes the stature of it's practitioner. At worst,
derision provokes an adversarial response, causing all additional communication
to be ignored, or rebelled against. You can't demand shame. Shame must be a
personal, individual realization, freely acquired. Demanding shame only
prevents awareness, and induces hate. Even if a person does, or fails to
stop something really horrible, you can pass laws to protect others from him,
but you can't demand shame. Shame must be freely acquired, in its own good
time. Until then, laws must be enforced with sadness, not hate. Hate excludes
knowledge, and shame, and tortures its practitioner.
Sympathy also appears to be motivated by the need to say "I am better than you
are". When this happens, it has all the same effects as derision. Sympathy
provides a comfortable, safe-harbor for laziness, self-pity, even hate.
How can you help people who have been victims of bigotry? Like training and
supervision for new crewmembers, laws requiring opportunity for victims can be
useful and necessary at first, but these crutches must be thrown off as soon as
possible, or the recipient will never learn to stand on his own.
New young crewmembers are eager to do whatever they are told, but that alone is
not enough. They must also learn to think for themselves and take pride in
their own success, or effort, without the need for always being told what to
do. For children of overbearing parents, and longtime victims of bigotry,
learning this is difficult because it's such a "foreign" concept. This
difficulty is not their fault, and it is certainly worth the
Have you ever been in a restaurant, or in a classroom, or on a team, or worked
in an office, where it did not seem like just a job? Have you ever been with
people who really care about, and take pride in what they are doing, where
every detail seems important, rather than just a chore? These places feel so
much more inviting, and the people seem to care so much more about each other.
People in these places seem to work harder, yet the work seems less tiring.
People in these places seem to prefer helping each other, rather than keeping
score of each others faults. These people seem bored by the prospect of doing
nothing, rather than always thinking about taking their next break. This kind
of attitude change becomes very contagious, once it gets started.
Morality requires making right choices and doing so willingly. Absent the
willing part, prison inmates are the most moral people in the world, so long as
they're closely guarded. With courage, you must be careful to take on only as
much burden as you truly want to carry. This must be a personal, individual
choice, freely acquired. Berating someone for having insufficient courage
prevents this individual choice, and induces fear. It may become necessary to
demand specific actions, but you can't demand courage. It must be voluntarily
found, in its own good time. Courage increases your capacity for morality,
and courage makes morality an imperative.
I once thought no parent in their right mind would send their child out into
this world without teaching them carefully about character and responsibility.
In my tenure as a Naval Officer, some of the young men I had the honor of
leading were missing an understanding of these subjects. I was surprised when
my efforts apparently sparked long awaited family discussions. I received
letters or long-distance phone calls from a dozen families, sometimes multiple
letters from both parents, all saying how happy they were that I was able to
get through to their "Johnny", since they had tried for years without success.
I always try to motivate people toward finding their own values. If a man's
values are not his own, freely acquired, they evaporate when things get tough.
The biggest challenge for me is to avoid playing god, and thereby impose my
values upon another. I learned how to teach the appreciation for, and the
understanding of character and values, without teaching my values. When
teaching values to others, I keep my own values secret, except when they are
the unavoidable result of setting a proper example. Respect, character and
values are the foundation for understanding everything else.
Without respect, when a parent becomes angry, it's seen as hate, and everything
said is either ignored or rebelled against. To teach respect, I would suggest
getting real sneery, and saying you have to show respect before you will ever
get respect. I think earning respect is a blind alley. If two people who show
respect meet for the first time, that job is done. They can then start working
on earning trust. It helps to set a good example, and try to not ever show
anger. Sadness and disappointment are much more powerful, and don't cause you
to be ignored, sometimes permanently. It's also nice to avoid teaching hate.
I guess that depends on whether you are trying to raise the next Galileo, or
the next Mussolini.
I went water skiing with Mark, and his father Pee Wee Reese. Mark's father had
an unusually positive, take-charge attitude toward people and problems, which I
found refreshing: more of a cheerful but determined let's get in there and get
it fixed, as opposed to the usual fear and hand-wringing, or "let's find
someone to blame". The river was really rough, and Mark's father soon
concluded it was too rough for skiing. I was surprised to hear no argument,
but Mark and his father just stared at each other for several minutes,
communicating without words. Finally, Mark's father said "you know, if you get
hurt, your mother will blame me", and Mark replied "It's great being a kid,
isn't it". I don't believe young people are irresponsible. I think nature and
experience programs young people to take risks; to a very young child,
everything is a risk. Young people are prepared to cheerfully accept the bumps
and scrapes of life, as a normal part of growing up. Overprotection can turn a
fun and exciting world of adventure into a hell-on-earth prison, even incite a
desperate and truly irresponsible revolt, such as suicide. This exuberance for
life can be refined with caution and responsibility, without being destroyed.
Learning requires mistakes. An effective leader must have the courage to stand
back and let his men make mistakes, and the judgment to prevent disastrous
errors. Learning also requires an understanding and visualization of what must
be done. I've used words, theatrics, hands-on experience, and reminders of
past experience. Usually, it takes at least two of these methods, together, to
get the job done. It's also important to understand why something must be
done, as well as how to do it. A man who knows how to do his job will follow
orders. A man who knows why to do his job can work independently. He can also
lead others. He can even anticipate and prepare for trouble. At this level of
concentration, the outside world seems to slow down, and the job becomes more
of an adventure, less of a chore. Boxers and football players sometimes talk
about a point when their opponent seems to go into slow motion, and they know
what others will do, before they do it. This is why they love the sport. We
are all capable of reaching this level of concentration, if we only try.
That's what we were designed to do. That's why we are here. To spend an
entire lifetime half dead, or in fear, or playing mind-numbing games, yearning
only for that time when we can lay on a beach somewhere and be ninety-percent
dead, is a horrible waste.
A good leader teaches and explains, but can also communicate feelings without
words. Feelings such as commitment and determination must be communicated, not
explained. I've found one of the best ways to teach responsibility is the fire
drill. Most of my peers held walk-and-talk fire drills without any hands-on
training. Since the fire hoses are made of rubber and canvas, they deteriorate
quickly with age or use. I used the obsolete hoses to conduct hands-on
training with real water. This could get exciting, since the old hoses
sometimes split open, or even ripped in two.
The newest, youngest men were in dire need of training, yet they were
uninterested and prone to horseplay. A good ass-chewing ended the horseplay,
but not the attitude problem. My approach was to ignore their antics until the
horseplay got out of hand. I would then pick a few of the best men at random
and have them sit down, without explanation. This stopped the horseplay,
probably because everyone was puzzled. After the drill, they would ask me why
those men were sitting down. I told them "if this had been a real fire, those
are the men who would be killed while you were goofing-off". It's not just the
words, but the attitude. You have to communicate that indescribable emotion of
horrors past, with a sense of sadness, not anger. Anger is easily mistaken for
hatred, belligerence, even fear. Sadness is the only feeling which is
unmistakable. It's also the only emotion which is reliably recognized by
children. A small dose of responsibility, properly administered, goes a long
way. I often found these kids, hours after the drill, staring at some
bulkhead, sometimes in tears, with lots of questions about courage and
responsibility. All participants loved these drills. I was surprised, because
these drills required a lot of extra work. A "walk and talk" drill would just
end. We always had tons of equipment to be cleaned-up and stowed away after
our drills. Everyone pitched in with the clean-up, and they were cheerful and
happy to do it. They knew it was important.
A young father, with four children he deeply loved, asked me to explain
courage. I put a 2 by 4 on the ground, and asked him to walk its length 5
times. He now had the training, and knew he could do it. To attempt a
dangerous job without experience or training is not courage, it's foolhardy.
Next, I suggested a 4 inch wide steel beam. He was confident he could walk
that also, until I said it connected the roofs of two 10-story buildings. He
said he would never walk that, until I suggested the other building was on
fire, and his children were over there. He now realized he would have no
trouble walking that beam, or carrying his children back. He said he was
I was not the best person teaching courage and responsibility. I spoke to a
new seaman, who appeared to be bright and ambitious, even though others said he
was stupid and lazy. I assigned him a several-day job, explained it thoroughly,
then left him to do it. The Senior Chief called me that night to say the man
had worked through lunch, and dinner, without eating, and intended to work
through the night as well. He told the Senior Chief he would not stop, unless
I said it was OK. When I talked with the seaman, he said "I can work for three
days and nights without eating or sleeping". The three-day job was more than
half done. I explained that such an effort may be needed in an emergency, but
this job was not, and it should be completed during normal working hours. He
responded with a cheerful OK, and promptly turned in for the remainder of the
night. Any other seaman would have complained, or at least demanded a meal. I
don't remember if he always called me "sir" or not, but he was always
respectful. As with any new man, I asked him pop questions whenever I was in
the fireroom. Where we were standing was not part of my question. I asked him
"what if the fuel manifold ruptured, and the whole boiler front was on fire?".
He instantly pointed across the fireroom to the fuel shutoff valves, and said
"I'd run through the fire and shut off the fuel valves". When I reacted with
surprise, he said confidently "I can run through fire", after which I said
"you wouldn't be afraid?". He replied "I would NOT let someone else get hurt
doing MY job". He said he was raised on an Indian reservation, and was chosen
by the Elders to join the Navy. This was his first time off the reservation.
The Elders had a training program that included working for three days and
nights without food or sleep, running through fire, wilderness survival, and
other challenges. Only the students, the Elders, and the volunteers who
conducted the training knew who did what, or how well they did it. Everyone
either succeeded, or quit. For the quitters, the Elders always apologized
profusely for selecting them too early, and promised to be more careful next
time. This made the quitters more determined to succeed, and more respectful.
The program was voluntary, but all the kids eagerly awaited the time, chosen by
the Elders, when they would be allowed to do it. This might seem rough, but
what's really cruel is to make your children face the world in fear.
By the way, if the above program was not voluntary, it would feel like torture.
Attitude makes a big difference.
Sex and love are two very different things. Love is a gift; it can only be
freely given, you can't take or "have" love. Love is also not selfish; you
can love hundreds of people all at the same time, God might say billions, but
you can't demand love. Sex with more than one is difficult, and rape is still
considered to be sex. When used for its intended purpose, sex is a good thing;
humanity would cease to exist without it, but it is no substitute for love.
When used in this way, it acts like a cancer, leaving a malignant selfish
abscess where the ability to love used to be.
I once thought no parent in their right mind would send their child out into
this world without teaching them carefully about love. It's important to learn
about love, before being exposed to sex. Parents are urged to talk with their
children about sex, but they really need to talk about love first. Teaching by
example is wonderful, love is much more feeling than words, but you have to
explain to children what it is, or they might never understand. Hell, I had to
ask the UDT Seals if they were gay. Courage requires love.
Parents are programmed to love children. Sex is no substitute for love. An
adult who doesn't understand is horribly dangerous.
Like courage and character, you have to learn about love from somebody, or you
might never understand. If everyone learned about love, before being exposed
to sex, we would eliminate the need to have 5 million unwanted children born
every year, in addition to eliminating the need to have 5 million abortions
In the hope it might someday be useful, I wrote everything down.
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