A person's worldview is shaped in many ways starting from birth. The values held by his family, friends and community are impressed upon him during the first years of his life, and form the basis by which he interacts with the world and through which he understands his experiences. While many people remain truest to the ethics developed in childhood, and only develop complexity in their ethical standards as they age, others choose to stay true to the values that call to them most clearly and build up their values around a new pattern of beliefs. My values were rooted in my family of birth and developed through the influence of my friends and community, but they crystalized during the nearly two decades I spent serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Among my core values are the Marine Corp ethical goals of honor, courage and commitment, and the basic values of service, hard work, and leadership.
Service is a value that I believe in deeply. As a young man, I choose not to follow my parents in building their business. My parents had a successful business and I could easily have chosen to devote my life to helping grow and expand that business. My parents did a lot for their business, even going so far as to leave the Lutheran Church for the Presbyterian Church because the Presbyterian Church was more socially advantageous, and because membership there would help my father continue to build his business. However, when I entered adulthood, I realized that the family business wasn't for me. I rejected the idea of following in the family footsteps and joined the Marines instead. I did not want to build my life around doing whatever was necessary to become a more successful businessman, but instead felt called upon to commit myself to a greater cause. In the Marines, I spent 19 years serving my country. Rejecting my parents' goals of business success and wealth, I took on the identity -- and pay -- of a soldier. Like most soldiers, I gave my job more than a few hours a week. I often lived my job day and night, and risked a great deal for it. As a Marine, I lived to serve my country as well as my fellow Marines. While I had several opportunities to leave the service, I opted to continue as a service member for nearly two decades.
My 19 years in the Marines showcases another of my core ethical values: commitment. A soldier can't be half-hearted about his job. Lives depend on his making and keeping a commitment to do the best that he can when engaged in his work. Whether his job is driving a truck, fighting on the front lines, or sitting at a recruiter's desk, each Marine must do his best and fulfill the commitment he made when he signed his service papers. Once you've become a member of the military, backing out isn't an option, and every service member must do his best to live up to high expectations. He must become a trusted member of a team, an expert in his field, and he must go wherever he is sent to do whatever job he is assigned to complete. I might have sympathy for people who make commitments they find that they can't keep, but I don't have a great deal of respect for failing to keep a commitment that's already been made for any but the most desperate of reasons. I consider keeping commitments, even small ones, as a matter of integrity and a sign of trustworthiness.
I believe that the ability to keep a commitment is also a sign as to whether a person is basically honorable. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an honorable person as an individual who is "characterized by integrity" and "guided by a high sense of honor and duty." (Merriam-Webster, 2011). Understanding honor and developing as an honorable person are core values of the Marine Corps, and as a Marine with a long service history, I personally value honor very highly. During my two decades in the Marines, I was challenged by peers and mentors to become an honorable person. I showed my sense of honor through actions such as keeping my commitments, staying true to my word, and by always doing my best to be someone that other soldiers could trust and rely upon in any situation.
I found these three core values to be challenged when I left the Marines after 19 years to work at a private company that supported defense contracts. My new position in the private sector gave me a viewpoint into the inner workings of government that I hadn't touched as a service member. Where I valued honor, commitment, and service, the business managers and the government employees and officials they struck deals with often seemed to lack these three critical ethical values. Service was valued below profit, commitment less than making a show, and honor could not rise above the need to work a deal by any necessary means. I hadn't expected a private business to be the military, but I had expected that a business that recruited former members of the military would better embody the ideals that are often ingrained into soldiers in all branches of the military. I was repulsed by the private environment that I worked in; far from being a job that my life as a Marine could lead me to enjoy, I found that my work with private defense contracting was devoid of the ethical values I treasured. I was disappointed that other former members of the military didn't display the courage necessary to act honorably in their post-military work life.
The anything-for-success environment fostered by the management of the company I worked for reminded me in some ways of the way my parents had given up the Lutheran church they were raised in order to better their business. While many people are not bothered by the minor differences between different sects of Protestantism, there are certainly differences between the beliefs of the Lutheran church and the beliefs of the Presbyterian church. My parents' beliefs were flexible enough to make the jump from one branch of Protestantism to another without guilt. I wouldn't say that they acted immorally to become Protestants, and yet, their actions showed that they valued wealth and success over tradition. The government employees who struck deals with managers of the private military contractor I worked for might have believed that the end goal, a stronger military presence, justified the actions they took when negotiating contracts. However, it likewise made me uncomfortable to learn how often honor was compromised for the sake of business deals. The government officials might have been committed to doing their jobs, but they weren't committed to values Americans might appreciate, like thrift.
I have always placed a high value on people who work hard to meet their goals. Many people seem to believe that it's possible to achieve high expectations without putting in any hard work. But it is only through time and labor that a person can truly learn and understand the skills and knowledge needed to complete a tough activity. A child can learn to throw a ball, but only through years of practice can he become skilled enough at throwing a ball to become a major league baseball pitcher or the quarterback of a football team. A calculator can tell you the solution to a mathematical problem, but knowing the answer isn't the same as knowing how to solve the problem itself. Any worthwhile goal must be treated like a student treats a math problem, and all the steps in the learning process must be considered before the formula for success can be understood or repeated. In the Marines, all soldiers begin at the same place. All soldiers are challenged to invest greater and greater amounts of effort into becoming part of a unit and learning how they can best contribute to their team. Successful soldiers are those who work hard from their very first day after enlistment, and their success shows as they are promoted and placed into positions of greater responsibility.
Leadership is a value that I have always considered to be very important. A true leader must genuinely understand the problems his team faces. A true leader is able to facilitate the development of a solution for problems he and his team face, either by himself or by delegating responsibility to the right people. Leaders achieve the goals they aim for much of the time, and help others to also achieve their goals. While a leader can inspire using falsehoods, the best leaders are highly ethical people who believe solidly in core values. They aim high, but always keep their core values in mind in all that they do. Good leaders share their core values with others and encourage their peers and subordinates to develop and live by a strong ethical code. A true leader…