By Bishop Jonathan Holston
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. ”Proverbs 27:17
Karlton was young, bright, strong and smart. He was also away from home for the first time facing opportunities he had worked hard to achieve. He was acutely aware he would need to be at his very best from day one.
Karlton had stepped into a new universe of challenge and honor as he entered the first day of his four years by the Bay at the fabled U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
He thought to himself as he made his first step on the campus that this is the same first step others made who now live in recorded and repeated history: Dewey, Halsey, Nimitz and Rickover.
Every summer, the future begins again for 1,200 plebes, the lowest possible rank for students at the academy. No matter what a plebe s background, chances are the living arrangements at the academy are different from anything he or she has experienced.
The day begins with reveille and ends with lights out. They stand watches, march to meals and wear uniforms for almost everything they do. Roommates must keep their room ready for a military inspection at any time and keep their uniforms in regulation condition. Demerits are awarded for a room or uniform that is not in proper order or squared away.
One of the first routines of every day is formation for inspection. For Karlton s first inspection experience, he wanted everything to be perfect. He was up early. His rack was made. His clothes were pressed. His shoes were polished so bright he was able to double-check his shave just by looking down!
He was in line. He hadn t missed a single item. He stood perfectly at attention as the inspection was made. One by one, each member of the company was given a critical and practiced, once over. Words were spoken, clothes checked, belts centered ”and Carlton was confident the inspector would stop, look and he would hear the words, Very good, plebe!
The moment came. The detailer came face to face with this tall, well prepared young man. There was a moment of silence as the detailer took in Karlton s presence. Karlton didn t blink. He stood perfectly still. The detailer finally spoke.
What s your name, plebe?
Well Holston, you just earned yourself three demerits.
Karlton was dumbfounded! He was given three demerits first thing ”on his first day!
Why? I ll tell you why. Because the shoes of his roommate weren t as brightly polished as his own. He literally out shined those near him!
You would think the person whose shoes weren t as bright would get the demerits. No! One of the highest values they hold and teach is caring for each other, looking after each other, working together. They do this because they believe. They know just taking care of oneself is not the path to maximum excellence. To be at your best, they teach shared accountability. They wanted Karlton to help others because the day would come when he would need the others to help him. They teach a culture of shared support, accountability and reliance.
Because Karlton hadn t fully understood Navy culture, because he had assumed the others would be equally prepared but had not actually checked, he was given 3 demerits.
That day, Karlton embraced two truths: first is to always check, don t assume, and second is that to truly be at your best, you must help others be their best.