As is pretty often the case, as I was running around dropping my children off at school, I was listening to the Bob Edwards Show on XM Public Radio. I find his interviews often provide me some inspiring moment that I quickly jot down to work off of and direct me toward a concept applicable to what we are doing here in FHZ.
This morning Bob was doing an interview with Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has made it a mission to work with young men who are in trouble in Los Angeles, particularly those involved in gangs. Without going through the whole interview, which was excellent as it was, there was one moment where Father Greg discusses his efforts through Homeboy Industries to get kids off the streets and into a situation where they can learn a trade and get away from the gang lifestyle. The story he told was of one youth (I think his nickname was “Clever”) who got into the program, and as was the case in some situations, actually meeting up with ex-rival gang members in the job and he was shaking hands and realizing he needed to get along. However, there was one other guy there, “Trabiando”, who it was obvious that Clever had a deep-seated issue with; not only would he not shake hands with him, he wouldn’t speak to him or even look at him.
Father Greg related that he informed the two of them that if they couldn’t get along, there were plenty of others who wanted into the program, and they both admitted they wanted to work, so they remained enrolled.
A while later, Trabiando was jumped and unmercifully beaten by some gangsters near his home. Long story short, Trabiando was put on life support for a period until he could be declared legally dead; in that period, Clever called up Father Greg and apparently, offered whatever help, donating blood, etc. that could be done. Father Greg continued talking to Clever for a while, and Clever became choked up and said the reason he wanted to help, because, “He was my friend”.
What we need in our lives is more reaching out to others with divergent ideas and understanding of their perspective. Father Greg said in the interview, “It’s hard to demonize someone when you know them”. By that he means, the better we get to know our adversaries, the more equipped we are to see their point of view and the less likely we are to treat them with contempt.
Given the visceral feelings that many of these gang members have for their rivals, the fact that someone like Father Greg has been able to bring them to the table to talk with one another is nothing short of miraculous. Since we in emergency services actually profess to be brothers, you’d think we could get past all the name calling and finger pointing for a while and team up to bring about needed change.
Why we can’t get a better understanding of volunteer vs. career, urban vs. rural, fire vs. EMS, and any other dividing line, I don’t know. But instead of talking about what color helmets we wear and how many lights we have on our POVs, maybe we should be taking on issues like recruitment of good people, understanding why some communities require career personnel and some must do with volunteers, understanding that some of us choose to be career and some find that they can volunteer in their communities, and some can actually do both, and any number of subjects.
We have so many meaningful issues to solve that if we did, would bring our industry ahead by light years. We have many brilliant minds in our midst that if they were to put away some of the rhetoric and listen instead, we could find ways to achieve our overarching mission. There really does come a time when we must all put away our jealousies, our misperceptions, and our biases, and reach out to overcome our biggest challenges.
Resolve as an emergency service leader to make serious change in our industry. Network and share ideas. Provide positive feedback about something you DO agree with to someone you know is on the “other side” of whatever issue you are passionate about to show them you do have something in common and at least put the commonalities out there as a bridge for dialogue.
There are plenty off issues I am passionate about, but choose to put them aside for a moment and talk about issues that bind us. If we can solve these challenges we can agree on, maybe, just maybe, we can tackle the other issues after we have had some successes and understand we are all on the same team; not just as emergency service providers, but as human beings. Make the effort to show that you care about where we go, and be the change agent where you are today.