Lucy Giles is no ordinary lady.
She is the first female to become College Commander at Sandhurst, the revered military institution where every officer in the British Army is trained.
I must therefore, give her full title: Lieutenant Colonel Lucy Giles. Lucy combines this demanding role, with her domestic duties as wife of a soldier and a mother of two children.
Lucy was a student at Exeter University when a friend suggested she come along to an Officers’ Training Corps week-end. The event captured her imagination. The physical and mental challenge combined with the social aspect of the experience, and the sense of duty spoke to something in her make-up. Now this girl from a comprehensive school in Somerset moulds the officers of the nation’s army.
Asked once what advice she would pass on if she only had the opportunity to convey one nugget of wisdom, she gave this answer; ‘Life is about doing the right thing, on a difficult day, when no one is looking.’ Doing the right thing is no problem when conditions are pleasant, and when we are under someone else’s observing eye; but doing it when such conditions do not prevail, is the acid test of character.
The first clause in Lucy Giles’ advice is challenging. Right has to be done, even, ‘on a difficult day.’
Many people seize upon the slightest excuse to avoid doing their duty Like the man lazy man in the Book of Proverbs, who excuses his indolence by saying ‘There is a lion in the way’ (26;13), there are many who seize on any excuse to avoid an irksome duty. However, a person’s true worth is revealed, not when things are going swimmingly, but when things are tough. The late Alistair Cooke once defined a ‘professional’ as someone who does his best even when he doesn’t feel like it.
Lucy Giles’s second clause is equally challenging. When no one is looking, the temptation is to indulge in an unworthy action. Moses, brought up in an Egyptian Palace, but knowing that he was from the Hebrew people, saw an opportunity one day to strike a blow on their behalf. He saw an Egyptian overseer maltreating a Hebrew slave.
The writer of the Book of Exodus tells us that ‘Glancing this way and that and seeing no-one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand’(Exodus 2; 12). However, the very next day it became clear that someone had seen him, and the knowledge that he had been spotted forced him to flee.
U.S.President James Abraham Garfield was once encouraged to take a dubious course of action. HIs special adviser sought to alleviate his moral scruples by saying, ‘No one will ever know.’
The adviser wasn’t reckoning on the reply the President would give. He said, ‘James Abraham Garfield will know, and I’ve got to sleep with him.’ Though no one was looking, Garfield was determined to do the right thing.
We may never enrol at Sandhurst, but Lucy Giles’s counsel is an excellent guide for life.