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When ‘Not My Problem’ Can Be 3 Important Words To Live By

Words To Live By

Like any other large organization, particularly a governmental organization, the United States Navy has more than its fair share of bureaucracy to contend with. I was continuously amazed at the amount of paper it took to keep ships, submarines, aircraft, and personnel afloat, underwater, aloft, and more or less productive. There was a rumor that the paper to produce an aircraft carrier weighed more than the ship. I can well believe it.

On one of the ships I served, I met a true bureaucratic virtuoso. He was a Chief Petty Officer nearing retirement and was the senior enlisted person in the Operations Department and served as the Leading Petty Officer. He had two baskets on the corners of his desk – an IN and an OUT.

He disliked paperwork as much as I did but he was the acknowledged master at dealing with it. When he could find time from his “real” duties, he’d sit down for a “paper session” and pull out a large rubber stamp and ink pad with red ink from the desk drawer. The stamp had only three letters on it – N M P – and was about 4 by 2 inches.

not my problem

He’d pull the top paper out of the IN box and quickly glance over it. A few needed his signature or initials which he’d apply and toss in the OUT box. A few he’d re-address to someone in the department with a “fix this crap” note. And all the rest – at least 90% got stamped with NMP, initialed, and tossed disgustedly in the OUT box to be returned to the originator.

I learned an important life lesson that has served me well for many years because NMP stood for Not My Problem.

Not My Problem!

He wasn’t being lazy – he took care quickly and efficiently with everything that was his problem. But the rest, all those other problems that he couldn’t fix, that he couldn’t do a damn thing about, he got them out of his way and out of his mind.

“Not My Problem” is a corollary to the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

The Courage to change the things I can;

And the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Regardless of your views or religious affiliation or lack thereof, those are true words of wisdom. It was a message taken to heart by my LPO. He had almost 30 years of working wisdom to know the difference. He never shied away from fixing the problems he could control. And he never belabored himself or the department with those that couldn’t be fixed. He knew he wasn’t going to change the NAVY and he realized the futility of even making the effort.

Problems From Every Direction

As we all endure the vicissitudes, adversities, trials, and tribulations of 2020: a year from Hell, take a moment to sit back and reflect on Serenity, Courage, Wisdom, and Not My Problem.

There are problems seemingly in every direction, but how many can you seriously do anything about? Are you fixing the problem? Or are you just exacerbating it? Are you constructively changing anything – or are you just listening to yourself talk? There is a trite, but still very true, old expression – “Don’t burn down the barn to get rid of the rats.”

I’m seventy years old – I remember Truman as President – and have lived through a lot of difficult times for this country and for our world, but I have NEVER seen a time when Americans are more polarized. Whatever your feelings and beliefs may be, this polarization is the MOST dangerous problem we face.

Many years have passed since I raised my right hand and put my very life on the line with these words:

“I solemnly swear to defend the Constitution of the United States of America – against all enemies – foreign or domestic.”

Today as I gaze out across our nation, I’m reminded of the sage words of Walt Kelly in his Pogo comic strip –

“We have seen the enemy – and he is us.”

At the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Benjamin Franklin aptly stated as he affixed his signature, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang individually.” It is time for all of us Americans to hang together or I fear greatly for our country.  We must stop trying to bury the hatchet in each other’s back before we end up with the Balkanized States of America.

Fix the problems you can fix – and accept the things that you can’t change. The NMP’s that you can’t do anything about need to be dumped in the OUT box so you can move on to much more important tasks that you personally can do something about. When you get down to the brass tacks, there is really only one person’s opinion you can change – your own.

Take a lesson from the Gospel of Paul (McCartney) – maybe it’s time folks for us all to “Let It Be” and chill out a little before we destroy ourselves from within.

Then take another lesson from history – the barbarians didn’t destroy Rome – Rome destroyed Rome.

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Reeves Motal
Reeves Motal
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