Life lessons from the Brig

You can be all you want to be,” parents and teachers tell children and students. Schools prepare them for a good start in their chosen careers. But we also need to do is to prepare them to end well.

Athletes, actors, talk show hosts, presidents, comedians, chefs, CEOs, movie producers, evangelists. Many among them have failed morally, convicted in courts of law or public opinion for ethical failures. They started well but ended badly. Victims of the Uzziah syndrome.

King Uzziah was the tenth king of ancient Israel. Archaeologists date his reign to 783-742 BC. One of the most celebrated kings of Israel during Old Testament times, Uzziah started as a god-fearing ruler, the most prosperous since Solomon. But pride entered his heart and as punishment, God struck him with leprosy.

Though both conventional wisdom and empirical data suggest that leaders who possess great strengths also present greater than average weaknesses, everyone can fall victim to Uzziah syndrome. The Navy Brig is home to those who joined the service with high hopes about service to family, God and country, but later compromised their values and now await military justice.

What lessons can we teach young men and women that will help them end well?

1. Integrity: A Marine master sergeant once asked former Nixon adviser Charles Colson: “Which is more important, integrity or loyalty?” No one knew the answer better than Colson, who served eight months in prison for his involvement in Watergate. Misplaced loyalty can enslave. A former Marine himself, Colson later confessed to his misplaced loyalty that led to unethical behavior. (Colso