Expectations and Stereotypes

I was driving along and a car passed me, stereo booming away. The license plate was surrounded by a chain and the windows were all blacked out.  A sticker on the rear window: the silhouette of a pit bull with the words, “A civilized society does not regulate by race”.

Stereotyping an entire group because of the actions of a few runs counter to what we define as civilized.  But society accepts individuals by way of common values, mores, and an understanding that those are the boundaries.  People bump up against those boundaries all the time and when they do, that is when conflict occurs, and when the judging begins.  There is a big difference between listening to a very loud stereo and embracing the thug life.  However, there are those who claim innocence and can't understand that when they push against those values, there will often be pushback.  

For example, in the animal kingdom, there are many members of the cat (feline) family.  There is, however, a significant difference between a house cat and a tiger.  It isn't being stereotypical to expect different behavior between the domesticated feline and a large striped one living in the Burmese jungle.  But these are different animals; its not an issue of culture or race, it is a difference of species.  We, however, are all one, brothers.  We may worship at different churches, live in different communities, listen to different music, or even have different skin color, but we are all members of homo sapiens. 

We in emergency services create our own divisions that we should be careful to avoid “regulating” by.  We have, as I have mentioned ad nauseam, our career vs. volunteer, our union vs. non-union, our urban vs. our rural, our fire/EMS vs. our many other versions, and in all of these cases, it begins the discussion of, “Are we not all brothers?”

In the spirit of my analogy, when you advertise your membership in the greater society of firefighters, and we have taken an oath to protect the public and carry out our sworn duties faithfully, if you fail to carry out those duties by being ineffective, stealing from the till, setting fires, you are not part of our society.  We seem to have some real mutts in our ranks these days.  I'm sure some of it is just perception, having better access to arrest records and the media's willingness to pump up the anger when someone given public trust is found doing something outside the norm.  

We shouldn't judge others as a group, but in some cases, we have to maintain some objectivity when it comes to high percentages of people proving the perception to be more of a reality than otherwise.  These are not easy questions to answer, despite the shouting from the cheap seats by the trolls who just react to anything that hits the Interwebz.

Just as in religion, every fire department has more commonalities than differences.  We speak pretty much a universal language, no matter where we are on the globe.  A grab is a celebrated occasion in any firehouse.  And holding a worker where we found it when we got there is recognized it for what it is and we will even catch ourselves saying it under our breath- “Nice stop…”  But we are very diverse as well.  We have different cultures and different values when it comes to some parts of our lives.  Regardless of those differences, though, I think we can all agree on one big idea, that there is no room on the job for mutts.

How these people manage to thrive in our ranks is beyond me.  I mean, doesn’t anyone question how some of these issues come about?  Is there simply no fear of repercussion?  Do we honestly continue to tolerate this kind of behavior until it is exposed by the next Geraldo wanna-be?  Well, the news is that we have plenty in our ranks who do actually tolerate it, and enable it, and turn the other way when someone is doing wrong.  And frankly, I have pointed out some of these individuals in my career and heard, “Oh, that’s just how ___ is.”  And then life just goes on.

If an individual is willing to use poor judgment to fulfill their own needs first, what makes you think they are going to develop a whole bunch of integrity when things really get bad?  If an individual is willing to take shortcuts in patient care to avoid extra work, what kinds of decisions do you think they’ll make in regard to putting their own life on the line when you need the help most?  It all comes down to trust. If people can’t be trusted to do the little things, how can we trust them to make good choices when it is absolutely necessary?  You may think you can trust them, but really, think hard about it…do you?

If you have people in your organization who have constant challenges of judgment, you can’t afford to keep them.  If they don’t cause a civil or criminal investigation at some point, chances are, they will find some other means to let everyone down.  The fire service isn’t a club, it is a calling.  There is no room in the brotherhood for people without integrity.  If you really believe that being a firefighter is more than a job or a hobby, then it is incumbent on you to enforce the values we expect from someone when you pin on the badge.

Don’t let the mutts ruin a good thing.  Being a firefighter is still an honorable and noble thing to be.  Kids still grow up wanting to be firefighters.  People do still look up to firefighters.  But as we continue to see more and more of the lapses in our expectations and beliefs, we continue to slide against what we all swore to protect back in the beginning.  Don’t let your brothers down.

2 Comments

  • Robert Avsec says:

    Really enjoyed reading a piece that should be required reading for all new firefighters AND required cont ed for incumbents. Suggested edit for last sentence? Don’t let your brothers and sisters down. 🙂

  • Mick Mayers says:

    True. It was implied, but I was trying to keep hitting that “brother” note. Sometimes it doesn’t translate well, because I certainly mean for it to be universal, but poetic license takes a little liberty from time to time. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!

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