This visit with you today is a sort of follow up message to my last two columns on Firehouse.com. In one I spoke of the problems I encountered when my faith in an individual was misplaced. In the other I spoke of the problems caused by the interaction of dumb-asses and disasters. It was during our Rally Day service at the Colts Neck Reformed Church that my thoughts on the problems outlined in both of these commentaries were made abundantly clear to me. I have worked on a method of tying the two together.
As I sat waiting for the church service to start, the words to an old standard began to roll around in my mind. I kept hearing the tune to Amazing Grace being played on my mental music box. As you might imagine, I have heard that song played at more than one fire service funeral. Then the words kept coming. I once was lost, but now am found. Over and over again these words kept repeating themselves. I got out my notepad and jotted down the words which make up the title of this commentary.
The thoughts then began to flow. I started to think about the many problems which are taking hold of our fire service world. But are we not just one subset of a greater society, I thought to myself? If we are encountering problems in the world, are not our fellow travelers on this earth also suffering? I then thought about a number of issues which I am working my way through. There are a number of similarities. Then it came to me.
As I look at the problems facing our nation I see yet another issue which is not being addressed. It seems as though there are some people who seemingly revel within the concept of being lost. They seem to be enjoying the fact that they are lost and are not seeking to be found. Sadly, many in this group are our political leaders, the people charged with running our country. They refuse the counsel of those with whom they disagree philosophically. They are deaf when it comes to listening to the ideas of others.
Let me suggest that I am not singling out one particular level of government. I seem to see these lost souls at the local, county, state, and federal levels. I worry that is left to their own devices these folks will lead our nation down the road to the status of a third world nation. They seem hell-bent on making political capital out of the very tasks which must be accomplished to take care of the business of America.
It seems to me that I saw a lot of fine folks in days gone by that seemed to be motivated to do good works in the public sector. Now I am not so naive as to think that there has ever been a time in our history where politics was not a strong part of our government's operational equation. Perhaps it was my youthful enthusiasm that caused me to overlook the foibles of our forefathers. Perhaps I simply did not see the role that selfish, personal propensities played in the formation of our nation. I do not know.
However, in the living of my life I am afraid that a certain amount of practical cynicism has become a part of my personal modis operandi. I have seen good people trampled into the dust, while at the same time seeing some really selfish people rise through the ranks to positions of great responsibility. Perhaps I should have questioned how this was possible. But I did not. I just took things like this at face value. That is just how it is. That is what has actually happened to me on occasion.
As I recall it, the people leading the nation during my youth were many of the same folks who led the fight against fascism during World War II. Now it seemed to me that if these people were talented and brave enough to lead us to victory, then they should be able to create a great nation during a time of peace.
Perhaps it was my youthful propensity to raise people to the level of idols. That is a possibility. Maybe it came from being raised by an Army officer dad who taught my brother and me to obey orders and do the best job that we could. That is how it seems now. During those years it seems as though I saw good people achieving seemingly laudable goals.
Many fine programs came into being and many formerly persecuted people were brought under the protection of our government. As a child of the 1950's I became accustomed to a certain amount of certainty in life. Like many of my age, I have fond memories of the seeming security of the Eisenhower Years. Perhaps that is in itself another invention our own personal experiences. Who can say for sure?
Having lived through the calamities of the 1960's, I have sure seen my share of life's changes. There year is 2011 and I am now at an age and station where I ask more serious, probing questions of the world around me. I know that I no longer have any desire to suffer fools gladly. Maybe I once did, but this new attitude of mine is something that the living of life taught me. I now challenge the norm rather than passively submit to it. I guess that is why I have gotten into so much trouble over the years. I could not let certain things go on without asking a simple question. Why?
It seems as though the scales have now been tilted in the opposite direction. Self interest seems to have trumped the public good. Self-seeking people have pried the levers of government from the hands of the public spirited folks I remember from my youth. Sadly it seems as though the selfish, and not the meek, have inherited our earth.
People at all levels of government have lost sight of a really simple concept which has made our nation the world's beacon for freedom and success. What is that concept you might well ask? It is the concept of the common good, or perhaps the greatest good for the greatest number. Think about it.
When was the last time you saw a person rise to the top of the political totem pole on a platform of conciliation and compromise? Heck, in the last round of elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate, how many people lost their seats because them were accused of being weak and compromising with the other side (the enemy so to speak). This is no way to run a railroad.
The time has come to make a stand. We need to look to history for support. I suggest that a study of the life of Henry Clay be brought forward to help us understand the need for cooperation and conciliation in the operation of the machinery of government. He served in a number of influential positions within the federal government including service as Speaker of the House on three separate occasions. He served in both the House and Senate, as well as being the Ninth Secretary of State.
He was a primary member of a group of political figures who repeatedly displayed the ability to reach compromise on the serious issues of his day. He achieved a great deal, but this is not to say that he was without detractors. No one who stands up for controversial positions is ever universally lauded by all of the people. However, in 1957 he was selected as one of the five greatest Senators in the history of the United States to that point.
Imagine how saddened would be this "Great Compromiser" with the current state of affairs in our national government. He was a man willing to stand up for his principles. However, he was also a man possessed of sufficient wisdom to know that sometimes things had to be accomplished which served the common good of the nation.
My friends, I am suggesting that this spirit of compromise must be created within the halls of government and adopted by those who have been selected by us to served and lead us. It is up to us to ride herd on the people we elect. Whether is your town council, your county commissioners, your state government, or our friends in Washington, you need to make yourself known.
Each of us has an opinion on how our government is being run. Each of us has our complaints, our gripes and our suggestions for possible solutions. We need to understand that before we can offer advice to others we must take control of our own lives. How can we help others if we cannot help ourselves?
The key here is to recognize that you can only control the actions of one person on the face of this earth: yourself. I could cry about how I am being treated, but unless I take steps to alter the manner in which I am being treated I have no leg to stand on. This is what is happening in my life right now. I have been battered about the head and shoulders by people I have trusted. The time to act is now.
As the current problems began to unfold, I had a number of directions that I could take. I could have lost my temper and went off on a rant. I could have written a lengthy article naming names and pointing fingers. In short, I could have done some really stupid things which could have damaged my reputation and had no real effect on the outcome of the problems. No, I did none of these things. I sought to take positive steps to get me on the right track.
I did what I usually do in such situations and sought the counsel of a couple of really good friends. I called them and began to tell them about the problem, about my anger, and about the seeming unfairness of it all. I went on and on sharing my feelings and my woes. I am sure that I was quite agitated. In each case, my friends let me go one and on, and it was only when I paused to dry a deep breath that they began to share their thoughts with me.
Neither of them could see any good coming out of any strong negative actions taken on my part. Each counseled silence and patience. They saw that things were changing. They saw things coming to an end. They saw these things better than I did. They suggested to me that the beginnings of a new direction in my career appeared to be growing out of the endings in my career which they believed that they saw.
One shared with me the old tale about how it seems that God does not close one door except that He opens another. Thanks to the help of my friends, I have taken a calm and reasonable approach to the current spate of problems. I asked for advice, weighed those opinions, and then acted according to the guidance provided by my friends. I can only control my response to the environment around me. This is what I am doing.
It seems that this has led to some new opportunities. A new array of consulting jobs might now be headed my way and a new interaction with another old friend has sent me in a new and more productive direction. You should be looking at adopting a cooperative approach to the living of your professional life. Do not think that you are the be all and end all of knowledge in the world. Each of us has limits and we must understand that the solutions to life's problems may arise from the help provided by others.
Sadly you and I are witnessing the damage being done to our nation by politicians who do not seem to be thinking in a reasonable, common-sense manner. We see many untested, untried, or previously failed solutions being proposed to the problems facing out nation. I have learned that the best approach to the living of life involves a number of simple, interrelated steps:
- Gain knowledge
- Use that knowledge real-world situations
- Evaluate the manner in which the knowledge work (or did not work)
- Come up with new ways of doing things based upon a combination of knowledge, education, training, and experience.
My friends, it seems as though far too many people around us are practicing the widely discredited 'my way or the highway' form of leadership. Perhaps these people have poor advisors. It also might be that they have good advisors but believe themselves to be far smarter than their fellow travelers. Let me suggest that our political leaders at all levels adopt a simple approach to examining the problems facing society today. They need to test their proposed solution within crucible of reality.
They need to stop thinking themselves to be the center of righteousness, knowledge, and purpose. If they fail to see this we must change their role in our world today. You and I are facing fire service problems unlike any we have ever encountered in the past. We need to come together and share our knowledge. We need to seek the advice of others and then study the usefulness of that advice for our situations.
Do not blindly follow the seeming messiahs of social consciousness. It might be that the solutions to our problems already exist. Then again it might be that these new problems require a new, threshold style of solutions. Sadly, I must suggest that the only way to move forward is to reach out to others.
I once was lost but now am found, thanks to the help of my friends and the will of God. Let us each now work to reach those who seemingly revel in being lost with no intention of ever wishing to be found. We need to offer our assistance, but only with the understanding that you and I can only control our own actions. With others we need to use reason, logic, and kindness in our efforts to influence them. Be nice a lot, it seems to confuse people. Maybe then they will be open to our suggestions. Let us all try.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his A View From my Front Porch blog. He recently published several texts, including Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.