Mark Glencourse’s recent decision to end the Medic 999 blog has certainly struck a sympathetic chord with many of us in the emergency services blogosphere. We all tread the finely defined line of sharing our experiences for the sake of educational and informational purposes on a regular basis knowing that we are one troll away from internet chaos and either a loss of our jobs, public lynching, or worse. There’s a reason many of us require authorization before your comments post; one ill-phrased comment can be the same as someone throwing a road flare into a packed movie house. Next thing you know, people are yelling at each other, getting ugly, going after whomever happens to be in the way, then voila- all consumed, the masses move on to leave you, the theater owner with your smoking rubble pile (i.e.; your life and career, or what’s left of it). It’s a tough crowd sometimes.
Plenty of blogs exist just for the sake of venting. The origins of the web log are in a diary format and meant as a way for the blogger to share his or her feelings and observations with others. My site was meant to be different, just as I would bet the rest of the blogs on the FireEMSBlog Network were. Mark’s efforts were pioneering like many of the rest of my fellow bloggers. Many of us saw this format as a way to immediately reach the masses with timely messages. But not only that, I think Mark set an example of a blogger that took the high road consistently, so much so that he and Justin at The Happy Medic were able to inspire Thaddeus Setla to team up for developing the Chronicles of EMS series.
While Mark and many of us chose to blog openly, for a long time I used to get a little frustrated sometimes with the people who choose to hide behind a psuedonym. Looking back on it, sometimes I wish I had stayed anonymous, since the longer I do this, the more I realize it’s probably not a bad way to be able to say your piece without being taken out at the esophagus. While I publish any comment for or against my views, except spam, there have been a few unnerving moments when I would read a comment and know a potential spark was heading toward the hot zone. The nature of my blog keeps that to a minimum, but I have read others that have turned pretty emotional.
The subjects of change and leadership cover some dangerous ground. You can be courageous and try to influence positive growth, but from time to time, leaders get attacked, especially if what they say is unpopular. Just ask Gandhi, or JFK, or Martin Luther King, Jr. how dangerous leading can be. While on this site I haven’t gotten into what I consider the “daily grind”, I have discussed some best practices that apparently don’t sit well with everyone. Some of my long-time readers might remember the series I began on credentialing that went south when a few individuals disagreed with my assessment of the current landscape. Not only did they choose to attack me, but my employer as well (they were pretty good natured about it, considering, which goes to show how supportive my bosses are of this endeavor). Likewise, I got an e-mail recently from someone I consider a friend, who, having read something I wrote, took it as an attack on him. Nothing could have been father from the truth. While there were others involved in the situation that I felt deserved some well-placed rage, I never meant to question this individual’s commitment or bravery. But like everything else, when you are enmeshed in a situation, no matter what side of the fence you happen to be on, sometimes the firing gets a little too close. If you happen to be standing nearby when the grenade goes off, just supporting the leader may blow up in your face, no matter how much you wanted to help and how good your intentions.
So to keep this from going on much too long, I’m reminded that I wanted to tell you all this story: I recall an event from my recent past where I was doing my station rounds; a firefighter, who obviously saw my “certificate book” years ago, when I happened to visit his station pulled out his similarly crafted three-ring binder which makes keeping track of certificates a little easier. While mine is pretty full after thirty years in this business, this young firefighter had a pretty impressive start and I congratulated him on the many trees that were killed in pursuit of personal excellence. Of course, this event became the equivalent of a measuring contest and soon the other crew members were bringing out their own versions, ranging from a file folder to what looked like a scrapbook. Thus, the Zen Master saw a little teaching moment.
I wished I had my book at the time, but when I took all of the other books and stacked them on top of one another, they made a nice pile. The crew members were laughing a little nervously (okay, where’s the chief going with this?) when I made a BIG deal out of this stack. Then I turned to the bunch and pointed out that while this was quite an assembly of awards, the entire pile was worth NOTHING if the knowledge and experience that the stack represented wasn’t shared, either by teaching, relating it to others, or simply by setting an example. Mark got that idea early on and decided he wanted to share his ideas, albeit in a method that many don’t understand or even try to appreciate.
Medic 999 was and remains an excellent blog. Mark did a great job with it and he deserved the honor of Fire/EMS Blog of the Year he got last year from a popular vote. As I mentioned earlier, Mark and Justin’s story of reaching out to one another across the pond and a continent (depending on which direction you flew, I suppose) was inspiring and certainly newsworthy. And above all, the situation he finds himself in now, I have been close to before and there but for the grace of God go I. I’ve been fortunate to have an employer who, while keeping their distance and reaffirming their legal requirements to maintain privacy, have also been supportive of my need for creative expression (so long as it is done off-duty and on my own computer). It is here in which we have our last leadership lesson of the day.
Every now and then I have to endure an occasional comment from the “less-than-enlightened”; or “LTEs”, as I like to call them. Like as in “Battalion Chief Lite” or “Firefighter Lite”- you know, looks like one, MAYBE tastes like one, but we all know somehow, when you turn it to the side, you see it is just a facade (or like in beer, it never tastes as good as what it is advertised to be). When you have a lot of these Lites hanging around, it really makes it hard to do your job. While it gives those of us a never-ending source of material to write about, these individuals can quickly make your life miserable and wear you down. If they are your boss, they can make it impossible to be innovative and visionary. I have been fortunate to work with people who realize the power of knowledge and desire for us all to share (appropriately) what we know. Others aren’t quite as fortunate. If you find yourself in the position of being the big cheese and you have some real go-getters, do you want to be known as the chief that took off the leash and encouraged facilitated excellence? Or do you want to be known as the Stalinist who shut down all original thought, suppressed creativity, and required everyone to march in lock-step? In this day and age, we should all be reaching out to not only understand where we have been, but where we need to go. Mark was reaching ahead of himself, not behind. If you can honor his decision to make the choice, the best way is probably to learn from his experience, share it with others, and to strive for excellence. While you may not be able to choose to blog, you can teach, you ca mentor, and you can certainly patronize those of us who can bring it to you.
Good luck, Mark. Vaya con Dios. Visit often and know that I’m hoisting a drink in your direction. Cheers and thanks for leading.