Discussion of the New Navy Ethos Statement

The Big Navy is working on a new governing statement as a supporting sort of culture identifier.  The idea is that this product will “underpin” our ability to accomplish The Mission with a definition of our Ethos.  In short, and Ethos is the unique characteristics or mindset of a body.  It’s like a personal “ethic” on a group level.  I’m not going to put it up here, since it’ll probably violate some copyright issue or something.  What I will do is talk about my thoughts on the whole thing.

I’m pretty flamed up about this.  I’m not a supporter of the last “Ethos” put out by the Navy in the form of The Sailor’s Creed.  I just linked it there, so you can click to read it and the history.  The Creed is something we’re all supposed to memorize and spout back in special events, like when we’re up for qualification boards and whatnot.  It’s a bland statement that doesn’t really say much, in my opinion.  I hate buzzwords and fluffy statements.  We see it all the time and it sort of makes us all feel warm and fuzzy but doesn’t really tell us much.  Suffice to say this New Ethos statement makes the Sailor’s Creed look like a definition taken straight out of Websters. 

Note: I refer to Honor, Courage and Commitment frequently.  These are the three Navy Core Values that we use as our (sort-of) motto.  They’re good.  I like ‘em. 

So here’s my discussion.  It’s long, of course, and might be vague in some places, since I’m referring directly to the document. 

Here is my initial response to the Ethos thing.  I have much more to say, and much of it is negative, so I want to hold off and couch the negative with the positive direction that we need much more.  For now, I think this should ideally make someone think a bit before saying Aye Aye to the “Navy Ethos.”

In My Humble Opinion, this Ethos thing is a natural follow-on to the Sailor’s Creed, a well-intentioned first attempt at the Ethos.  It is my greatest hope that the Navy will turn from the current trend that is imitation of society’s non-absolute culture and regain the integrity of the Core Values and what we stand for, which is CLEAR and DIRECT application of Force, Leadership, Courage and Patriotism.

ETHOS:  The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.  Honor, Courage and Commitment are our character, our Core Values.  Enough said, now let’s get busy driving toward them.

I believe the wrong course is being pursued, here, with this Ethos thing.  I believe we must bring our culture in this Navy to comprehend the Core Values and realize that, at this moment, we are not teaching them and ingraining them in our sailors.  Right now, we are a Navy of One.  A Navy of ME. 

It would serve best if we developed the definitions, for the Navy, of the concepts of Honor, Courage and Commitment.  We should be driven by the Core Values first and foremost, and have not done so up to this point.  It sure looks like we’re simply adding to the confusion by devising this ethos thing.

However, we are not “forged” by the core values.  We are forged by our circumstances.  Our actions in a given situation forge us.  The guidelines for our actions are the Core Values; they are the standard by which we judge right and wrong in the Navy’s culture.

Enough with the vague buzzwords as are found in most “motivational” statements of vision and Ethos, even the Sailor’s Creed.  Let us set standards that are simple, clear and comprehensible.  What is meant in the Ethos is not clear.  It is vague and does not define these fundamentals as the Ethos definition requires.  The Navy (like many other organizations both civilian and military) is constantly burning time and money to “redefine itself.” A recent department store catalog had, as its slogan, “redefine your life.”

The Navy should never have to redefine itself in the face of the current generation.  Yes, absolutely create a new commercial slogan every few years.  I’m always glad to “Accelerate My Life” or go “Full Speed Ahead.” I “GO NAVY” every single day.  But I don’t want you, me, and thousands of other sailors to constantly rethink the fundamentals of being a sailor, a leader and a follower.  If those fundamentals need revision, then there is something vitally wrong with our thinking. 

Next are some of the traits that build up to the Ethos.  I find the words themselves to make some semblance of sense, but their meanings for me are not the same as for the next guy, and therefore all must be straightened out and clarified before we use them.

RESPECT:  The Ethos says we respect for each other is fundamental:

Respect for others is NOT fundamental to our character.  The Ethos statement is defining an impossible role for the people of the Navy.  It is a great ideal to respect all people, but the concept of respect is a vague term, meaningless in the diversity of our people.  What we must respect are the rules and regulations.  We must uphold the standards and traditions, regardless of the respect we do or do not hold for others.  I must salute you for you rate the salute, not because I respect you.  Respect is not given until it is earned lest it is false respect.  We must impose the conditions that comprise respect and we will see the start of the professionalism and loyalty.  As our leaders demonstrate the qualities we seek in respect, true respect, personal and authentic, will grow.

BOLD LEADERSHIP: The Ethos says we must have it:

Bold leadership is a meaningless statement.  I do not want a bold leader to send me to a meaningless doom.  I want a leader who is unafraid of peer pressure and unafraid to think outside the box.  It is not necessarily a bold leader, but a wise and proactive leader that I seek.  Wise leadership is crucial to our success.  Wisdom is infinitely valuable.  Boldness without wisdom is the path of fools, and we have no room for these in the Navy, much less the DOD or the government of our country.

Here are the Core Values with discussion provided by me:


We maintain traditions, respectful attitudes (note I did not say we respect), we render honors to those who rate honors.  Honor means we do the right thing and do our best to know what the right thing is, not just for our fellow man, but for our mission.  Respect simply cannot be forced or taught.  We can teach how respect is shown, but not how it is felt.  People just can’t seem to get this:  You CANNOT make someone respect you or someone else.  We can, however, create an environment where respectful actions are natural, by using rules and demanding adherence to them. 


We demand wisdom over peer pressure.  We will not let the pseudo-religious culture of responsibility-avoidance and “Not Me-ism” to prevail in our Navy.  We will step up to the plate when it is time to fight and we will take our lumps when we mess up.  Fear is what is driving our commands to failure.  This is not fear of the enemy, but fear of reprisal, of condemnation and judgment, fear of being told we are wrong.  We must, with wisdom and integrity, determine the right course of action and stand by it until it proves to be wrong or until we succeed.  We must not back down because our peers do not agree with us, or the group-think is all-powerful.  Courage means continuing through fear of what others will think to the goal that all should be meeting.

The Ethos is thinking about this one too in its founding principles, and this part is scary to me:

“Courage in Adversity:  During these periods of heightened danger, it is likely that and individual’s faith will become increasingly important.”

******LISTEN:  This statement DOES NOT BELONG in this document.  Keep faith out of the ethos, for the Navy is NOT and will not ever be a religious organization.  Let the chaplain counsel, let the Chief of Naval Operations LEAD.  Period.******


Undying resolve is what we must contain within our culture.  We must proceed without fail to the accomplishment of our mission.  We may NOT question the mission when it brings jeopardy to the accomplishment of the mission.  Victory at all costs is a byword that still has meaning.  We must be willing to sacrifice our personal desires for those we serve and those with whom we work.

We will NOT “prevail in the face of adversity with strength, determination, and dignity” just because we say the words.  This statement means absolutely nothing.  The nearest guarantee of success is if we develop wise leaders, uphold the standards and traditions of the Navy, adhere to the rules and regulations, maintain our integrity, our commitment to accomplishing the mission IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE.  And we absolutely must be unafraid to speak out when the wrong course is being pursued. 

Okay.  That’s it for my paperwork from the office.

Here’s more from me on this vision thing.

It’s become a huge trend in our world, from churches to businesses and all the other organizations to develop an Ethos statement.  I don’t think I believe in them.  I think the idea is stupid.  If we have to codify our ideals in a mushy, semantically null eye-catcher, then we have failed to live up to them.  One cannot force an ethos on another.  Ethics is an impossible science in groups.  It only works on one individual at a time.

Leaders must understand the formation and concepts of ethics, but they cannot instill them in their subordinates.  Leaders must dive in and learn the individual ethic of each person they lead and work with.  This is NOT so that the ethic can be changed but to find out what makes the person tick and gives the leader the ability to MOTIVATE.  Ethics change within the individual over time due to individual experience. 

For instance, my personal ethic could be that I wait until the last minute to complete an assignment.  That is because I work better under pressure or because I just don’t want to do the task so I put it off.  Either way, should I encounter either by positive or negative feedback a result from my ethical choice, I may be eventually induced to alter my thought process.  But nobody made me do that.  They CAN make me start and finish an assignment on time, however, by application of discipline (rules), which will suit the demand of the orders for which I perform, but it STILL will not change my ethic. 

So extrapolate that to Ethos, and you get the same equation.  We cannot make a group of government employees BELIEVE in something no matter how well couched the idea is in flowery vagaries.  We can only make the group PERFORM as we wish through discipline (rules). 

Finally, I believe wholeheartedly that our Ethos, as it seems to be developing (you’ll see it on the streets fairly soon), is a LIE.  We will be presenting a falsehood to the general public about how we live and operate.  The statements may sound true or right, but they will fundamentally be wrong. 

The following words are just not going to sell me:  Committed, Unwavering, Dedication, Accountability, Proud, Deep Resolve, Integrity, Respect, Bold Leadership, Prevail, Strength, Determination, Dignity.

Most of those words make great sense as a concept.  They DON’T speak for the people in an organization until that organization already embodies the concepts, in which case the statement is moot (waste of paperwork but fine if you really want it).  Some of the words are plain junk.  They don’t work for anything but to make a non-absolute person feel fuzzy.

Maybe I’ve read too much Ayn Rand, or maybe Heinlein, or maybe L’Amour, or C.S. Lewis, or Spurgeon, or the Bible, or Harry Harrison, or …… But I’m thoroughly NOT convinced that we should be stuffing these words down anyone’s throat without, first, a public apology, second, a delicious high-octane chaser, and third, finally resigning to just say “we don’t know how to lead, so we’re going to leave it up to the individual” after each line we publish.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s