Broken Resolutions

DC-soft-postThere's that joke that if you are a member of a fitness club, you don't want to be there for the first two weeks of the New Year.  After that, those who resolved to go out and change their lives have pretty much given up.  People sign up with the best of intentions, only to realize that they have conflicting priorities, and they are quickly drawn away.

Change is not easy.  We can do things to make it easier, but when challenged, more often than not, it becomes a chore to keep up with our promises to ourselves.  We wrestle with it for a period of time and either it gets easier or it doesn't.  That becomes the fork in the road; are we going this way, or that way?  One of those paths will go where we want it to go, and one, maybe not so much. We can do things to make the change easier on us.  We can make the changes incrementally. We can provide incentives. Or we can focus on where we were and resolve never to go back there again.  But ultimately, we have to decide what it is that we want more.

In Detroit, for example, my colleague and comrade Dave Statter shared a story of their new Fire Commissioner and his desire to change that organization.  Interestingly enough, while the 10% cut in pay is, in my eyes, a demotivating factor, there was at least one commenter on his site who believes promoting people based on seniority is no less egregious than promoting them on political preference. How about neither? I'm leaning toward what the Fire Commissioner has proposed: How about we promote based on objective criteria, like knowledge, skills and abilities? The man is already talking about positive change and already there are those who see it as a challenge.  We have to learn to trust; this commissioner needs to have a chance, or the process will be doomed before it even gets on paper.

Of course, then there is the never-ending farce in DC, which again is reported by Dave, and the use of fire companies to provide a "governmental presence" in high-crime areas.  I commented on the page about my observations, but the thing I wanted to point out in the context of this article is, if you wonder why people resist change, it only takes some of the antics going on with this administration in DC to understand why.  Even if there was a positive change in this community, there is bound to be resistance because there has not even yet been a single reported act of goodwill from the brass. To make it worse, they compound the issues by making moves like sitting an engine company on a street corner in the middle of the night to deter crime.  If the crime is so high in that area, why not put police out there to do something about it?  The whole situation smacks of punishment rather than a meaningful effort to change anything.  If anyone watching that situation believes there will be change, they are mistaken.  These sides are at war; there is not even the slightest bit of trust between them.

If you can't get the trust of the people you need to help create change, you will not succeed.  Plain and simple. People tend to distrust individuals who they have been burned by in the past, and continuing to ramp up the emotion does not fare well for the conflict.  In fact, it will just continue to perpetuate it.

I have reflected before on the dichotomy of a fire service that desires respect and wants the public to continue looking upon them adoringly, yet manages to shoot itself in the foot on so many occasions.  And I continue to be amazed at "leaders" who can't see past their own egos to realize that they will never create positive change unless they can build trust. 

The continued sniping at one another doesn't help either. While it really is a product of our society, the ability to make hostile comments about one another in anonymity instead of choosing to have meaningful dialogue about the situation has only exacerbated the problem.  What's even more interesting to me is that when you look at so many of the comments and public statements, they aren't even really arguments with a thesis and a defense, but just name-calling sessions, ad hominem attacks on people who don't even know enough about each other to make them credible attacks to begin with.

Until opposing groups can sit down and talk honestly about their needs with a willingness to work together, there will be no lessening of conflict. The new Fire Commissioner in Detroit is making an effort, reaching out and making suggestions on how to improve things.  He needs to be given a chance. In DC, there is no co-dependence in the situation, the Fire Chief and his staff and his bosses make it clear through their continued actions that they seek no cooperation, and the opposition doesn't seem to trust that anything that is done is done with a spirit of anything but retaliation.  Sadly, it appears their assessment has been correct so far.

We can't change unless we can build trust, but we can both reach across that divide and try.  If only one side chooses to do so, though, there will be no trust, and there will be no change.  And in those cases, expect more of the same through 2014. 

  • Kelly Arashin

    Great points – along with trust, credibility is an essential component for affecting change.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

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