As a young Marine Captain, just off the drill field at the Recruit Depot in San Diego, I decided to earn my Master’s Degree at night. If you have read the article on the Hunting Story, you know that I met my mentor, Robert “Bob” Humphrey, at this time: he was one of my professors. A little background on Humphrey's storybook life is important.
Bob Humphrey was a child of the Great Depression. Those were the days when life's lessons were learned in the school of hard knocks and he actually earned money as a semi-professional boxer. He also rode freight trains, worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCCs) and finally joined the Merchant Marines. He transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and became a rifle-platoon leader on Iwo Jima, receiving a gunshot-wound that ended his hopes for a professional boxing career.
After he was honorably discharged from the Marines, he earned a Harvard Law degree and settled into teaching Economics at MIT. During the Cold War, he went back overseas to see if his worldly experiences and Ivy League education would guide him in solving America's self-defeating Ugly Americanism. In other words, he was a hell of a man — and a real warrior, as opposed to me who just thought I was.
To tell the truth, I was kind of a tough-guy type. I would walk around town with a scowl on my face, challenging everyone I met with my eyes. Those of you who have some martial arts training — have you ever fantasized about using it? You don’t have to answer that. But that was me. I would walk into a bar or restaurant, look around, then mentally kill everyone in the place before I could relax, sit down and have a beer.
My aggressive attitude started to irritate Humphrey to the point that he finally took me aside and said: “Jack, I have to ask, do you realize that you make people uncomfortable? You have a way of challenging everyone you meet.” I shrugged, but inside I was secretly pleased, as in “well they should be uncomfortable, because I am such a ‘badass’!”
Humphrey could see that I wasn’t getting it. But he was patient and smart. Rather than telling me I was a fool, he gave me some extra homework. He said, “Jack, tonight when you go out, instead of looking at everyone like you want to intimidate them, try this instead: say to yourself ‘everyone in this place is a little safer because I am here.’”
I respected Humphrey very much by this time, so I decided to try his suggestion. I often went to a place in Ocean Beach called the Red Garter. It was like the Star Wars bar — full of tough guys and gals, various military, bikers, Soviet spies (this was during the Cold War), and plenty of trouble if you wanted it. But this time, instead of acting my usual self, I stopped in the doorway, surveyed the scene and said to myself: “Everyone in this place is a little safer because I am here; anyone in need has at least one friend because of me and my skills.”
Well everybody ignored me of course, nothing happened on the outside. But on the inside — well, even as I write this, I get that tingly feeling on my face and scalp. I had one of those life-changing epiphanies. I realized, “Wow, that felt a LOT better than what I was doing!”
That lesson in context changed my life and maybe even saved it. It turned me from a self-styled ‘badass’ into a protector and I continue to recommend it to my audiences all over the world. I invite you to try it yourself, tonight:
Wherever I walk, everyone is a little safer because I am there.
The creed can work as well on the street as it does in a bar. The Ethical Warrior should be so confident in his or her skills, that overt intimidation becomes unnecessary. The classic police motto, “to protect and serve,” is perfectly aligned with the idea that everyone is safer because we are there.
By the way, Humphrey’s lessons on warriorship weren’t over. If you want to hear a really embarrassing story that happened 16 years later, check out our next article, ‘The Warrior Creed Part 2’ coming in a few weeks.