Given the increased complications junior officers face and what was seen as a gradual deterioration in moral and ethical standards of behavior within the government, the class of 1948, at their 40th reunion, felt that the Academy graduates should have the best foundation possible in the humanities, government, integrity, ethics and political judgment. Furthermore, they felt that Academy graduates must be outstanding citizens, as well as good officers and leaders.
These words reprinted with minor modification are part of the program for the 20th Annual Coast Guard Academy Ethics Forum.
In 1989, the Class of ’48 established an endowment fund, now supplemented by the Class of ’57, “To provide a source of investment income to stimulate and enrich the training of the Corp of Cadets in good citizenship and ethics.”
As a business ethics speaker with strong ties to University and higher education presentations in ethics, I was honored to accept the invitation to speak to the United States Coast Guard Academy for their ethics forum. Knowing that every choice has a consequence, I feel that it is part of my calling to remind, if not impress, on the minds of young adults the critical importance of understanding that consequences always follow choices made.
While many people cannot imagine making choices in life that can lead to disastrous consequences, the reality is we all are vulnerable to temptation and as soon as we say it will never happen to me, the likelihood is that a test of integrity or ethical decision making is headed your way. Many of the cadets attending seemed to get the message, knowing that they are being groomed to be responsible for lives of US citizens and property of the US Government.
Prior to my presentation, many exceptional people (speakers and presenters) were assembled to make this 20th annual event memorable and effective for the participants. A keynote presentation, made on opening night by Rear admiral William F. Merlin, was a highlight and set the tone for the event for the cadets. Rear admiral Merlin spoke of (1) greed and (2) hubris – as the foundation of unethical behavior. As I listened to his comments, I had to apply them to my own personal story, which I openly shared with the cadets in my presentations today. While I didn’t start my venture into unethical behavior with greed in mind, I honestly must say that “greed” took over and “hubris” became the word of the day. I was, self defined, as the smartest man in the room and felt that somehow the rules didn’t apply to me.
Wrong. The rules do apply to me and to everyone else. In fact the one rule that sticks out now most is the rule – you reap what you sow. That’s true. I did. Prison following bad choices was the consequences of my sowing – so to speak.
Rear admiral Merlin completed his comments with one more word – humility. Again, his words spoke directly to me. When the illusion I had created was dissipated – the bubble burst so to speak – I was faced with the daunting task of telling my wife, family, business partners and friends that I was no more than a liar and thief. There is nothing more humbling than speaking the truth and knowing that the illusion of success was gone. Yet, as difficult as it was to communicate that truth, it was also freeing. Unencumbered by illusion, I was able to make new empowering choices that (like all choices) would have a profound consequence – only this time in a positive manner.
Perhaps, though I may never know the impact, the words spoken in my presentations and those of others – may – just may – have an impact that is positive.
As I closed by thoughts I stated the following:
Before I took those 23 steps into prison – I thought I made good choices. After I became 11642.058 (my prison number), I understood that every choice has a consequence. If you want positive results in life you must build a foundation of good choices.
Before I took those 23 steps – I lived life as an illusion. After I became 11642-058, I came to know that truth is freeing and though painful at times will always support a foundation of trust which is the backbone of all relationships.
Before I took those 23 steps – I thought I was successful. After I became 11642-058, I came to understand that success has nothing to do with the things we amass, but rather success in life is defined by the impact we have on those we come in contact with.
Make wise choices – look past life’s illusions and claim your success by making a difference in the lives of those come in contact with. As future leaders, we, the people, are placing our trust in you!
As a side note, the US Coast Guard Academy is listed as one of the top schools in 2009. Congratulations.