History & Culture / Opinion

Thirteen Mistakes – Redux


Sometimes the obvious is right there – before us. We miss it. Sometimes history teaches what the present cannot. Sometimes wisdom sits quietly at our feet or fingertips. We forget to look. Consider “The Thirteen Mistakes.”  

These days, we are all (or most of us) impatient, tired of being told what to do. By turns, we regret our impatience, then impatiently strive to fix messes created by our impatience. Or we get flush with judgment, flashing our mirror at those who judged us unfairly. It is all very human. 

Or we are cocksure our perception prevails, so are quick to insist, slow to concede, elevate little things, get consumed in the fight, forget why. We worry over unfixable things, forget we are limited, and imagine comfort in the idea of sameness, in social conformity, often the opposite of a virtue.

In 1950, the Defense Department (who knows who) penned a little book. It was nothing much; it reflected things about WWII, the Korean War, adjusting to civil society, and what made a good military officer. It was called, rather simply, “The Armed Forces Officer.” Greenback, at first a pamphlet, was easy to read.

About a third in, the author(s) noted the US Coast Guard – always central to America’s defense – had distilled what they called “The Thirteen Mistakes.”  These were little life lessons that, if you could avoid them, produce a happier, more collegial, and ultimately more effective life – and officer.

So, without more, here they are. Make of them what you will. They seem oddly fitted, 70 years later, to our world – and maybe you will agree, there is something here, at our feet and fingertips, that is worth our time.

The book is simple; it just lays the truth out for the officer, warfighter, warfighter come home, everyone. 

“It is a mistake …”

“(1) To attempt to set up your own standard of right and wrong,”

“(2) To try to measure the enjoyment of others by your own,”

“(3) To expect uniformity of opinions in the world,”

“(4) To fail to make allowance for inexperience,”

“(5) To endeavor to mold all dispositions alike,”

“(6) Not to yield on unimportant trifles,”

“(7) To look for perfection in our own actions,”

“(8) To worry ourselves and others about what cannot be remedied,”

“(9) Not to help everybody wherever, however, whenever we can,”

“(10) To consider impossible what we cannot ourselves perform,”

“(11) To believe only what our finite minds can grasp,”

“(12) Not to make allowance for the weakness of others,” and

“(13) To estimate by some outside quality, what it is that within which makes the man.”

In view of modern trends and sentiments, in and outside defense, these guideposts may seem old and new, relevant and past due, somehow maybe worth remembering or – we imagine – just trite? 

Even 70 years ago, those thoughts crossed the author’s mind, a military officer. We dismiss so much so fast, are so sure we are right and have no time to pause, think, and apply. How could anything so old be worth reviewing and internalizing, let alone help us reset our compass? Only it is.  

The author, after offering these little nuggets, gives an apology. He says the “unobserving officer will no doubt dismiss this list as just so many cliches.” Then he stops, adding: “The reflective man will accept it as a negative guide to positive conduct, for it engages practically every principle which is vital to the growth of a strong spiritual life in relation to your fellow man.”

Simple, the code of a devoted, effective, internally content military officer – 70 years ago and today. More, a set of little rock stacks to keep us on the trail, nothing too grand, nothing in excess, just a solid foundation on which we can stand, quietly plodding toward success.

To me, the interesting part of rereading those words in a little volume, plucked from a dusty shelf, is the timeless nature of what the author offers. Funny enough, the obvious is still obvious… if we don’t miss it.

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2 months ago

RBC, what a wonderful article, great reminders for everyone.
Thank You!

2 months ago
Reply to  Garye

Gary, thank you so much – sometimes the things we think are old – are new! Thank you for thoughts and kindness – onward! Best, RBC

James Carlyle
2 months ago

I attended the Coast Guard Academy in the 1950s. A lot of these guidelines were practiced there, a reason, I think most officers were pretty well balanced. We were an agency of the Treasury Department at the time, not the DOD.

2 months ago
Reply to  James Carlyle

Thank you for your service!

Judy K.
2 months ago

One of your best in sharing this Mr. Charles. Those points point out a moral compass that Officer held to keep himself in check. Nothing was mentioned of his faith in God, but I have no doubt he referenced God.
Thank you for this piece. Many copies of that little paperback should be dropped in every state in this country. Never know what effects it could produce in a country which has lost its moral compass.

2 months ago
Reply to  Judy K.

Amen Judy, Amen.

2 months ago
Reply to  Judy K.

Judy – thank you for reading, sharing and commenting … We have so much to be grateful for, and it is so easy to take it and people for granted, and yet we do know (in the quiet of the night) “but for” them we would not be who we are. Great and good leaders know that – and lead with it. Thank you!

2 months ago

True wisdom is eternal, never changes and is never old or out of date.

2 months ago
Reply to  Chris

But often forgotten or ignored.
A good lesson for us all.

2 months ago

I thank you for the thirteen Mistakes! I have written them to keep and to share!

Keep ’em coming!

2 months ago
Reply to  DonS

Don, for caring enough to write and share, thank you!

2 months ago

RBC, thanks for the chuckle and memory. If memory serves, I and a few others got to read our copies back in 1975 when starting NROTC. I might still have it buried in my Navy memorabilia collection, that is, if my wife hasn’t tossed it.

2 months ago

… #14). lying straight through their teeth out of one side of their mouths, standing on our doorsteps telling us how they think we ought to be living our lives, out the other –

2 months ago

Thanks for sharing this article penned in 1950. This is another good reason why we should preserve our history & learn from it.

2 months ago
Reply to  johnh

Yes – not just change it to our current whim/need as promoted by those who obviously never studied history of any sort.

2 months ago
Reply to  johnh

Yes, history destroyed or forgotten is a BIG MISTAKE!

Steven Thomas
2 months ago

It was true then and it is true now!

Rosalee Cavanaugh
2 months ago

AT that time they were addressing “simple minded people”, as our representative in Congress call us conservatives and patriotic citizens. So they load books as well as their speeches with so many words that just go round and round it makes their heads spin. However those “simple minded patriotic citizens” can see the folly of the awaked younger educated people. These self acclaimed ADULTS in Congress approved a Supreme Court Judge who didn’t know what a “woman” was because she was not EDUCATED in Biology!! They couldn’t use their EYES or MEMORY to know (video) that our now Pres Biden was dealing with the Ukraine for his son Hunter oil company while being the Vice President. Small books with volumes of information are useless and meaningless to our WOKE, sexually confused ADULTS in Congress and half of our country. (If it is still our country, does anyone remember the Trilateral Conspiracy that our representatives in Congress seem to be pushing? A ONE nation of South & North America as a third of the division of Earth.

2 months ago

When was the Trilateral Conspiracy considered by Congress, I do not recall this item. thanks

Rosalee Cavanaugh
2 months ago
Reply to  johnh

Sorry Johnh for my writing skills. The Trilateral was 3 major governments running the world. North and South America combine as one nation under the USA. What our Congress is doing by not securing our southern borders has the appearance of this theory. Our elections are fixed, our freedoms are becoming limited if non existing and my Dollar is getting smaller and smaller in value. England was to run Europe & Africa and Japan to run Asia. I am not too sure about Japan with China & Russia becoming a more of a threat. Just thinking of the good old days and the conspiracy theories that were out there and looking like “truth” today.

2 months ago

I am a changed person. Since the election results of 2020 with this crowd placed in the White House, not by the voters but by the thieves and liars and hypocrites who stole the election, and since the distortions and lies about January 6th, I am not in the mood for niceties anymore.

It may be why I love Trump. He never was in the mood for niceties and that’s okay by me.

I am not ready to understand the left anymore or accept their points of view because these days it means the death of my freedom. So all of these points look rather quaint and unimportant at the moment.
We have a war to win against these [email protected]@rds who would have Americans live under others’ rules as part of the Great Reset. I could go over every point and show why it is no longer relevant.

In war aggressive measures are needed, not understanding. And this is war!

2 months ago

Life lessons for the entire world to consider and live by.

Gloria Hensley
2 months ago
Reply to  Rhonda

Hmmmm, didn’t Jesus teach these things in one way or another?

2 months ago
Reply to  Gloria Hensley

So well said!

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