Thought for the day: Basic human skills

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

– Lazarus Long, as written by Robert A. Heinlein.





To this we might add: Build and airplane, Overhaul an engine for it, and fly it with good judgment and skill.”


In the quote above, Heinlein is speaking of possessing and exercising real skills. Nothing the man did nor thought was part of the “check the box off” mentality that many people have today.


Now, most “experiences” are bought on an hourly basis, complete with a photo op suitable for instant uploading to the requisite Face Book page. Conversely, Heinlein’s personal code was about the individual having actual skill, experiences and wisdom. Not to impress others, but for the simple human satisfaction of being a developed human with a richer life. When planning your build, make all other considerations secondary to learning and exercising skills, and then you will know the real rewards of homebuilding, the ones that go far beyond those who were seeking the easiest path to “check the box.”





Heinlein came from an unusual background to be one of the greatest Science Fiction writers of all time. Above is his 1924 US Naval Academy graduation photo. Few people know that he wrote the phrase  “An armed society is a polite society.” Throughout his life, Heinlein’s thoughts, perspectives and philosophy constantly evolved.  He did not try to be offensive, but he placed little or no value in conforming to any societies expectations.


4 Replies to “Thought for the day: Basic human skills”

  1. Heinlein is one of my favorite authors. I discovered him when I was about 9 years old in the children’s science fiction section in the Eagle Rock Public Library, (Los Angeles) that got me started reading science fiction. I read all of the approximately 6 lineal feet of science fiction in the children’s section, then read just about all of the books in the adult section by the time I graduated from high school.

    I credit Heinlein with aiding and abetting my love of books. While the technology of his stories is now dated, and history has taken a different course than what he envisioned, the ideas contained in his writing are still very valid.

    A librarian finally noticed that I was checking out my usual stack of about 5 books from the adult section with a children’s card, and I guilelessly said that the other librarians had let me check out before. She looked at me, and at the books, and let me go.

    On the internet, you will find his speech at graduation to the Midshipmen. What is not included in it was the portion on writing that I had read in Analog Science Fiction. I searched for it for years, until it dawned on me that I could buy the issue online. I now have it.

    Heinlein said that the course at Annapolis that helped him to write more than anything was the class in order writing. Orders must be written so they are clear, concise, easily understandable, and not subject to interpretation. (For those of you who’ve been in the Naval services, the term “Sea Lawyer” comes to mind). His writing pretty much reflects that.

    Many people tried to make him into some sort of guru in the 1960s. He disliked that, because he was an individual who proposed ideas, and expected people to follow their own ideas, not the ones he proposed.

    One of the few people that he got taken in by was L. Ron Hubbard, who falsely portrayed himself as a Navy man wounded in battle. In fact, LRH was lucky he wasn’t subjected to a court-martial after shelling a Mexican island, and was removed from command. The only place he was close to the enemy was in his mind.

    Heinlein also was an advocate for donating blood. I think of him when I donate.

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