Think for yourself or someone will do it for you

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Murphy
  • 354th Maintenance Group deputy commander
I was seven years old. My brother must have been 10. I want to establish that up front before I go further, because the following doesn't reflect favorably on either of us.

We lived on a mountainside in Colorado. One day we were out exploring the rock formations and forest on the hillside below our house, and we soon found ourselves overlooking the highway where the hill dropped off below us.

The traffic going by below our feet was strangely fascinating (remember our ages), and as we watched and talked my brother casually picked up one of the many pine cones scattered around and tossed it toward the road. It arced through the air and landed dead center in the back of a passing pickup truck.

"Whoa!," we thought. "Was that ever cool!" My older brother adopted his, "I meant to do that" stance, and felt it was his role to prove it by repeating the feat. I, being the little guy, wanted to prove that I could do anything he could do.

I think you can see where this is going. Please don't forget that I was seven.

We found it wasn't as easy as we thought. Pine cones don't fly fast, which meant we had to throw far ahead of the vehicles. Just about the time we were getting the lead right, we ran out of pine cones. So we switched to rocks. Did I mention I was seven?

At that moment, a flatbed semi-truck crawled up the highway. We couldn't pass up a target like that. We finally had the perfect aim and the perfect target. What we didn't have was a perfect grasp of ballistics. Rocks fly faster than pine cones and the truck was going much slower than other traffic. We aimed, we threw, and the brake lights came on.

"Uh-oh." I said. "I think we hit him. We'd better hide."

"Nah," said my brother. "No way. Quit worrying."

No sooner did he get the words out of his mouth than the truck found a wide spot, pulled over, and started to make a U-turn.

"See! He's coming back! We need to hide." I warned, tugging at my brother's sleeve in alarm.

"Knock it off!" said big brother. "He's just turning around and there's no problem."

We stood there and watched as the rig pulled up and stopped directly across the road from us. The driver opened his window, glared up at us, and angrily pointed directly at our house.

"Do you boys live up there?" He thundered.

I looked at my older, wiser brother, my eyes pleading - Tell him no. We don't live up there. We walked over the mountain from the next county. We don't even speak English. Is it too late to hide?

My brother amazed me with his brilliance.

"Yes!" He yelled back cheerfully. I couldn't believe my ears. The driver headed for our driveway.

A few minutes later we could hear Dad yelling down the hill for us. We were in for it now, I just knew it. Panicked, I asked my brother how to deal with Dad.

"Hide." He replied. I did what little brothers do - I followed him.

Needless to say, that didn't help the situation at all. By the time Dad found us, he was purple from anger and lack of oxygen from crawling all over the hillside yelling at 7,000 feet above sea level. He took us up to face the music.

In front of our house sat a semi with a shattered windshield and an extremely irate truck driver. The day went downhill from there.

I learned four major lessons from this:

1) If you refuse to think for yourself, someone else will do it for you. If that happens, that person will usually put his or her personal agenda ahead of your best interests.

2) If you're going to let someone else do your thinking, be sure it's someone who has more common sense than you do.

3) Going along with a stupid idea is your choice. If you choose to follow stupidity, you choose the consequences that go with it.

4) There's not a bird in existence that can fly with only one wing. The wingman concept requires two people engaged and thinking, not just one. If you're not making yourself heard, you're feeding the problem.

Dumb ideas don't get smarter if more people follow them. We all rely on others from time to time, but it's important to be selective when putting lives and careers in the hands of others. An old saying says, "Show me your friends, and I'll show you your future."

Choose well, and your friends will inspire you to greatness. Choose poorly, and they'll doom you to failure. When you follow a dumb idea, it becomes yours - and you'll pay the price for it. So think for yourself and speak up - you may be the one to prevent disaster.