I have known certain individuals who form the perfect picture of a typical and honorable first mate on a warship. As I learn from these influential leaders, I have become convinced that the life of a first mate is the most honorable and noble way to live.
The first mate is not the skipper; or else he would be better recognized for his efforts. He is not underqualified to be skipper; or else he would not be the first mate. But you will not realize this immediately. He will never pass by without a smile and most polite greeting, but then his mysterious form soon disappears as he goes to carry out the duties of first mate. What exactly is it he does? Well, that is difficult to say, because the first mate is the man in the background. He is the leader who gets none of the credit but deserves all of it. He is ever on the lookout for something that needs to be done, even if it is not his distinct responsibility to do it. He would rather be taking out some old lady’s trash than be enjoying the beach on a summer night. Take one look at his eyes and you will see that he really wants nothing more than to serve people without giving the slightest thought to what he may get in return. We have all heard the saying that the eye is the window to the soul. Look into the first mate’s eyes and you can see his humble willingness to serve. Some first mates have threatening eyes because they are so close to being skipper that they have grown bitter over the knowledge that they do not receive recognition as the skipper does. But not our specimen. No, this first mate has bright and peaceful eyes that are either smirking at the thought of lending a helping hand, or grinning at the prospect of standing up for something great. Nevertheless, standing for something great often means taking a beating for it.
There are many people who seem intent on belittling the good character of the first mates and only want to remind them that they are not skippers. A good first mate knows how to deal with this. In fact, get to know him well enough and you will at last see what it is that makes him truly influential to those who know him well. Most of us would want to lash back at our offenders. A strong leader smiles at them. Yes, that’s right; he smiles at them the very same genuine smile that indicates contentment rather than ecstasy. He never loses his cool and never compromises what he knows to be right. Always calm, always happy; he knows that to be put down for promoting the good is a better compliment than to be praised for momentary achievement.
The very nature of a good character eludes praise. When a strong man picks up a heavy weight and walks off with it, we think nothing of it. But when a small child does the same, we are rightfully in awe. With that in mind, a compliment can be seen as an indication of weakness. So if any of life’s first mates ever questions their usefulness, they should remember that a skipper is only praised because there is a first mate in the background making him great.