Whether one is religious or not, it is as incredible as it is unlikely that we exist. At some point, I wrote this. Right now, you are reading this. It is amazing. Yet, there are 6 billion more just like us, none more important than any other. McNamara’s third lesson is that there is something beyond one’s self.
We are flawed enough that we, in and of ourselves, are a pretty lousy goal. As such, McNamara was glad to have learned philosophy, logic, and ethics from his schooling at the University of California, Berkley. He took from Berkley the sense of responsibility to society that exemplified his career in public service. McNamara could have stayed President of Ford Motor Company for most of his life and retired a millionaire. Instead, he spent it serving his nation.
It’s difficult to derive some overarching message because the lesson’s “something” is going to be different for everyone. For some, like McNamara, it’s service to country. For others, it’s service to their god. For others still, it’s service to an ideal, such as honor, love, or justice. Whatever we choose to serve, most will be better for humanity than a philosophy of “as long as I’ve got mine.”
As important as it is to live in service of a higher calling, it is equally important to remember that our own imperfections and bias can lead to horrific outcomes. If there is one thing we can learn from the Crusades, the French Revolution, and Al-Qaeda, it’s that anything can be taken too far.
It’s difficult to look at any conflict without seeing selfishness amongst its causes. As long as we stay reflective and avoid the extremes, living by this lesson will help us avoid the inevitable conflict that selfishness brings.
Jump to a lesson:
Lesson 1: Empathize with Your Enemy
Lesson 2: Rationality Will Not Save Us
Lesson 3: There’s Something Beyond One’s Self
Lesson 4: Maximize Efficiency
Lesson 5: Proportionality Should Be a Guideline in War
Lesson 6: Get the Data
Lesson 7: Belief and Seeing Are Often Both Wrong
Lesson 8: Be Prepared to Re-examine Your Reasoning
Lesson 9: In Order To Do Good, You May Have To Engage in Evil
Lesson 10: Never Say Never
Lesson 11: You Can’t Change Human Nature