One day years ago, my wife and I were traveling to New England through northeastern Pennsylvania. We had picked out a motel that seemed easily accessible from a travel guide.
However, we got lost. I pulled into the first spot that might offer help, a convenience store. I asked the jovial, young, bright-eyed guy behind the counter for directions to my chosen destination. He gave me the directions readily and said, "Drive carefully."
I hesitated half a minute, and then pointing to my map, said, "Shouldn't we turn left here instead of right?"
No, he said, you need to turn right.
Again I questioned that, "According to this map, it seems to indicate left."
"Well, you better turn right," he said. "Would I lie to you? How long have I known you?" Then we both burst into laughter.
Leaving the store, I did turn right and I found the motel just as he had said in the first place.
Years before the humorous experience in northeast Pennsylvania, while I was taking my basic training for the Army at Fort Ord in California, near Monterrey, I was chosen to be a temporary non-commissioned officer and was instructed to lead a squad in minor training and maintenance assignments. One of my exercises was to have the men clean up a classroom to make it ready for the following day's work.
Together we were setting desks and chairs in their proper places after sweeping, mopping the floor and emptying the trash. We, the trainees, were to call the non-commissioned as well as commissioned officers by the title of sir.
About a half-hour after we had started our work, a sergeant came in to the room and called everyone to attention. He called out, in his sharp and commanding voice, "Who is in charge here?"
I replied, "I am, sir."
"What are you instructed to achieve this evening?" he asked.
I told him, and he replied in an elevated voice, "What is that in your hand, soldier?"
"A broom, sir," I replied.
He said to me, "Your job is to see that this classroom is made ready for use, not to make it ready by your own hands. You are here to instruct the men, not to do the work for them."
He turned on the heel of his spit-polished boot and left the room, saying, "You will be reported tomorrow morning to the master sergeant."
I had not done what I was told to do.
A month or so later while on maneuvers in the mountains of Fort Hunter Leggett, rugged country some miles south of Fort Ord, my squad and I were prepared to make camp for the night. One of my duties was to establish a sequence for men to be on guard duty. I figured the least desirable time to be on guard was about 2 a.m. so I put my name down there and proceeded to give specific locations and times for each of the other men in the squad.
The men would not accept my list of guard assignments, saying, "You should not stand guard at all! You'll get into trouble again."
I knew immediately that they were correct, so I took out my name and rearranged the whole roster.
The men taught me a lesson, at least for that occasion, but there's more.
Several days later, we were advised that the entire regiment, including our squad, was to go on a 15-mile march at night. It was cold and rainy, and although we started each day with a cold shower, we were not accustomed to the weather.
Ours was a heavy weapons unit, equipped with 50-caliber machine guns, 81-mm mortars and 91-mm rifles. Each of these weapons was heavy and consisted of two or more parts. Each part of a weapon had to be carried by one or more soldiers. True to form, I frequently offered to relieve the men temporarily of their burdens. Fortunately for me, during the entire 15 miles I was not caught doing a soldier's work.
I have found throughout my whole life that doing what you're told not to do can sometimes be a good and helpful thing.