Beating Up On Others

I happened to be watching the awesome display of firepower put on by America's men's basketball at the Olympics yesterday and upset my oldest daughter.  Emma was in the same state of patriotic cheerleading that everyone in our home, including myself, are in during these days and she did not understand why I was expressing my distaste for the stellar blowout underway.

"Emma", I said in explanation.  "Let's put it this way; let's just say that your soccer team is scheduled for a match.  When you show up, your middle school girls' soccer team happens to be playing the 2010 National Champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish Women's Soccer Team. And let's just say that after the score is around 100 to nothing and they are kicking the crap out of your team, they continue to score at will.  And let's say the Irish women not only continue to score, but are high-fiving and doing trick shots to run the score up because they want to set a record for how bad they can beat up on a middle school girls' soccer team.  How would that make you and your teammates feel?"

She looked at me and understood.  

To those who have much, as you have heard, much is expected.  While I think that running up a score to beat a record is pretty tacky, the way it went about was even worse, what with Lebron and Carmelo scoring at will, everyone chest bumping and celebrating a giveaway match against the Nigerian men.  I don't begrudge these guys the win, because honestly, they are the best in the world.  What I can't stomach is the way in which they acted, as if they were beating up on an opponent that was actually in their league.

Professionalism infers a level of competency, but it also includes a level of behavior that includes restraint and decorum.  Our conduct in the defeat of another should be restrained, or as best described by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching,

Arms, however beautiful, are instruments of ill omen, hateful to all creatures. Those who know the way of life do not wish to employ them.  The superior man prefers his higher nature, but in time of war, will call upon his lower nature. 
Weapons are an instrument of ill omen, and not the instruments of the superior man, until he has no choice but to employ them. Peace is what he prizes; victory through forces of arms is to him undesirable. To consider armed victory desirable would be to delight in killing men, and he who delights in killing men will not prevail on the world. 
To celebrate when man’s higher nature comes forth is the prized position; when his lower nature comes forth is time for mourning. The commander’s second has his place in man’s higher nature; the commanding general has his place assigned to man’s lower nature; his place assigned to him as if to a funeral. 
He who has killed multitudes of men should weep for them; and the victor in battle has his place accorded as in a funeral.
Beating up a team for the sake of setting a record is simply a fulfillment of ego.  There is nothing constructive in that effort aside from proclaiming to the world how special you think you are.  When you are the better of another, you should never celebrate in that existence, you should treat it soberly and in our demonstration of real leadership, elevate others.  That is the "higher nature" that Lao Tzu speaks of.  When we defeat another, we understand that we will still have to live with that individual, so we give them the opportunity to buy in to what we are saying.  But how this translates to a lesson in leadership is that we, fire and EMS professionals, should guard our comments toward others when it is clear that we have an advantage in education, in resources, or in experience.
I see some of the comments on blogs, etc. that equate to this hubris.  I see comments like "I work for Big City Fire Department and you don't therefore I am superior", or "I have seen much more than you, therefore I am superior".  Or things like that, none of which is endearing you to others, nor is it buying you more credibility.  I have much more experience and education than many of these commenters, but I try to not use that to defend any position because honestly, an individual with one year on the job may actually have a better or more logical way of doing something.  Experience doesn't necessarily translate into excellence.
We must strive to educate, and when we are playing on a higher level than others, we must realize that this is an opportunity to teach rather than to gloat.  Our moments around others are limited and beating up on someone "because we can" is a waste of time.  If we truly want to improve the lives of others, instead of flexing our muscles to prove how special we think we are, perhaps we should take a moment to make others feel special and teach them how to do improve themselves, which creates improvement for everyone involved, including ourselves.


  • Svend says:

    From the 'everything I needed to know I learned in the Navy' school of thought, covenenant leadership demands that when 'superior' there is an obligation to serve…
    Officers eat last and all that.

  • Marty Mayes says:

    Good read Chief! I think a lot of us feel the same way as you. I feel we have an opportunity as a service to lead in these times of struggle, not only within the industry but our communties as a whole. In order to do this we must stop allowing ego to drive our interactions whith each other. The results are often hurtful and degrading. But if we could make that change in our attitude towards each other, within the service, it would open doors most beleived closed forever. The community, the nation really is asking for leadership daily, that is demonstarted by thier worship of ego, chest bumping atheletes. We can and should answer thier call for greatness. We work on the higher plane, we should live our lives there as well. No other city, or government service even contemplates how to lead in these times, they only seek ways to "get more" budget. This is our time, this is our opportunity to affect the furture in a positive way. I hope we all can see that.

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