Tribes

I’ve been pretty busy lately so I haven’t been able to post.  Something about the end of summer, doing deliveries and computer stuff for my wife’s company, doing the initial planning and contacts for our annual Down Syndrome Buddy Walk, and of course, getting the kids back to school.  With all of that, something really important is also this weekend, the beginning of football season.

When I met my wife almost 20 years ago, I’ll admit, I was not as much of a college football fan as I was of the NFL.  But my very subtle leanings toward the Notre Dame Fighting Irish became pretty intense as a result of my wife’s having attended the University, as well as much of her family.  It was in becoming part of the Powers clan that I learned much more about the University of  “Our Mother” and really more than what I saw on TV that I liked.  I learned more about what the University means to the alums (and to us “subway alumni”) because of their adherence to higher standards, standards that may not have recently evolved into winning on the football field, but standards that have resulted in producing people of integrity, faith, and dedication.

But this isn’t a blog about that.  This blog is about tribes.  The “tribe” that I am a member of, those of Notre Dame fans, is so because of what the University means to me.  It’s not because the number of games in the win column (although that’s nice), it’s because of what they stand for.  There aren’t names on the backs of their shirts because it’s not about the individual, it’s about the team.  The student-athletes at the Univeristy of Notre Dame are expected to graduate; they’re not just taking up a scholarship for the purpose of winning.  When I wear a shirt identifying me as a supporter of Notre Dame, it’s because of my pride in the school and the product it turns out; from the people I have met, those would be educated, compassionate, involved people.  I am proud of my association with the University, even if it is only as a supporter and not an alumni.

Why do people wear shirts or hats or anything with a logo on it?  Generally, it’s because they identify with the group or product that the logo represents.  People wear logos or get tattoos often because they are trying to send a subtle (or not so subtle) message; “I relate to this advertisement”.  People put stickers on their cars for the same reasons.  They are trying to say, more often than not, “I like what this represents”.

Why do we wear firefighter logos or tats?  Why do we sport “colors” even when we don’t have to?  I live in a resort community and often I’ll be shopping at the supermarket and see someone wearing a t-shirt with a FD logo on it.  I always ask- “You on the job?”  Surprisingly enough, some of them are not.

We identify with our fire service identity because it is meaningful to us.  If it were not, we would certainly not advertise it.  If we worked with the “Loser Fire Department”, something tells me we wouldn’t wear their shirt when we were off duty.  We’d probably wear someone else’s.  Or maybe we wear the shirt of another department simply because we identify with them as brother firefighters.  I have a shirt that is one of my most prized possessions, the shirt a Capitan Miguel of “Cuerpos de Bomberos y Rescate, Cancun, Quintana Roo” told a firefighter to take off and give to me when his own shirt didn’t fit me.  I can’t even imagine that happening here in the States and interestingly enough, the same thing happened to my brother in Dublin, Ireland.

So the short version of this is, if we are so proud to associate with each other as brother firefighters, why is it that we continue to battle each other over trivial items and fail to band together to achieve greatness?  Even when we realize that we have more in common than we don’t, we continue to bicker and we fail to get together to realize gains in important issues, like sprinkler legislation, fire prevention, embracing accountability and incident management strategies, and especially in firefighter safety.

Then, what makes things even worse, is when we have people who bring disgrace to what we value.  People who represent themselves as members of our brotherhood who do things contrary to our mission, by setting fires or calling in false alarms, because they are “bored”.  People who steal from their brother firefighters, and people who say they are something when they are not, and in doing so, short-change those who HAVE earned the right to wear the badge or the patch.  And of course, people who wear the colors but don’t train and don’t work toward betterment of of their team, people who are just filling a spot.

Although I never went to Notre Dame, I realize that when I am wearing a logo on my shirt that says I support Notre Dame, that in some small way, I do represent what that stands for, even though anyone with a few bucks can go down the street and buy one easily enough.  But when I am in a crowd and I see someone wearing something with an “ND” on it, I yell, “GO IRISH!” to them and in a lot of cases, the person ends up stopping and talking to me about the University, or this year’s team, or the last time they were on campus.  We have an immediate friendship because of our common interest and of course, our view as to what is good about our “team” is often something we share.

When you are wearing your colors, your fire department colors, are you saying something good about your organization?  Are you trying to tell others that you are proud to be associated with that group? Or worse, are you ashamed to be wearing anything identifying you as part of your organization because of what they are and what they stand for?  if so, perhaps you should consider associating yourself with a different team.  I think if you wear the colors, but constantly bad-mouth the organization, then you probably should look really hard at what it is that you think the team is about and ask yourself if you really do want to continue being associated with that group.  Maybe it’s a message to move on.

We don’t wear items that associate us with things we detest.  We may not be completely in love with whatever it is that we happen to be wearing, but I can reassure you, no one wants to wear ANYTHING that has any identification with something they hate.  So if you like it enough to wear it, and that patch happens to be the trademark of the organization you are a part of, shouldn’t you be doing whatever it is that YOU can do to make that team better, or at least showing that you endorse what that group is all about?

When I put on a blue t-shirt that happens to come from your organization, I can reassure you, I wear it because I have a lot of pride in the fire service, enough pride that when someone says to me, “You on the job?”, I say back, “Yeah, I’m a firefighter”.  How many other jobs are out there where people do that?

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