Deep Thoughts from years spent on a Trident submarine.  
Listen to your common sense and do what you don't want to do.

As things on the sub would break or other problems would come up, there was no choice but to fix them with what was available. There was no way to call for help. You develop an extreme independence and with that you learn to trust your common sense.

Once while walking through the engine room prior to taking the watch, I smelled something burning. I tracking it down to a generator. The sailor on watch in the area did not smell it probably because it had built up gradually. All readings on the generator were normal. I had the generator shut down (which is not a trivial matter). It turned out it's main bus contacts were deforming and what I was smelling was burning insulation. It was just about to catch on fire.

A similar thing happened with the hydrolytic plant a few months latter.

Once while I was on watch in port, the bilge in the engine room started to fill up with sea water. A couple of pumps were started but the level was not going down. We were working on a sea water valve which requires very strict quality control. I had the valve shut immediately, bypassing the required quality control. This resulted in quite a bit of extra work but the leak stopped.

Which brings me to the next point. When paperwork conflicts with reality, go with reality and worry about the paperwork later.

At the same time I tried to practice something I learned in college while studying Aristotle. Aristotle believed that to achieve happiness it is necessary to maintain a balance in life while your natural tendency was to pull you to one extreme or another. Take for example money. Our natural tendency is to try to get as much money as possible. However rich people are not any happier than people with moderate amounts of money. So in order to be happy, you need a moderate amount of money and you need to guard against your natural tendency to want more. This means in order to be happy, you must do the opposite of what you want to do. A very profound principle!

But this might seem to be at odds with the idea of listening to you common sense.

I guess the difference is that in the case of the burning generator, I really did not want to shut the generator down. It went against procedure. It was a hassle. The people on watch were complaining about it. It was the harder option. But it was necessary to maintain a balance between what constituted a normal operating situation and what was an emergency. Somewhere I needed to judge when that line was crossed. Since normal operations are easier, in a situation like this were I was unsure, I should err the side of deciding it was an emergency situation and that way I would be happier.
Reader Comment
July 28, 99

I donít think our natural tendency is to pull us to one extreme or another. That is probably true of a minor percentage of the population, the ones who are perfectionists (perfection leads to extreme) or obsessive or who are intellectual and try to analyze their life. But most of the people are average about everything just because they want to. For them happiness means to be normal and being normal is to be in the average, to be like the neighbor, far from the extremes. So I agree with the first part of Aristotle principle: to achieve happiness it is necessary to maintain a balance in life (I think happiness comes with serenity) but I disagree with the second part: while our natural tendency was to pull you to one extreme or another. It is very difficult to control a natural tendency so I would be surprised if the majority of the people could do it.

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