My friends, the title for this week's visit with you is probably one of the legendary quotations in the history of mankind. It speaks to a truth far greater than just about any other you or I will ever consider. The sad part is that it is also one of the most widely ignored pieces of advice in the history of the world.
Each of us is part of a great social tapestry which has been woven through the many centuries of human experience. Things you and I do today are based upon a history and lineage that dates back through the years to the dark recesses of history. There is a great wealth of knowledge upon which we all work to base our daily decisions. However we offer fail to use that wisdom.
The sad flip side of this is that I personally believe we also live in the midst of a society which, for whatever the reason, perceives itself to be smarter than any of its predecessors. This has been a theme upon which I have touched many times over the past several years. I believe that we keep making the same mistakes for a couple of simple reasons.
First and foremost is the seeming inability of younger people to seek out the wisdom of the veteran members of their organization. The second is that people have an amazing ability when it comes to not paying attention. Not asking and not paying attention have caused a great many problems throughout recorded history.
I learned a great deal about this sort of common sense wisdom during my 26 years in the active and reserve military forces of our nation. One of my earliest lessons came from the sergeants for whom I labored in the U.S. Air Force. My buddies and I were frequently amazed at how the sergeants could always detect when we were goofing off or screwing up.
We tried really hard not to let on what we were doing, but it seemed as though the veteran noncommissioned officers had a sort of intellectual radar to seek out and destroy efforts at breaking the rules and taking short cuts. Being young and dumb we were ignorant of the forces at work in the equation.
It was only with the passage of time that the truth of the situation was revealed. As my buddies and I gained rank and seniority within the fire service we began to notice what was going on. These folks who were leading us knew what we were doing because the chances were great that they too had done the same things in their younger years.
My friends, this is just one more example of another face of a very simple thing. It is called experience. The same process repeated itself when my brother and I joined the Newark Fire Department within three months of each other back in the early 1970's. We were both veterans of the military service. We had survived the service and felt that we were eminently qualified to take on the world in any endeavor. Of course we were wrong about that one too.
When we graduated from the training academy we were both assigned to Engine Company #11 on Central Avenue in the West Ward. It was under the tutelage of some really great guys that we began our fire service journey as young "red-ass" firemen. Our mentors were all veterans of the sad and tragic riot period in Newark history.
By and large these great guys were veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Lebanon Crisis, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. They were used to giving orders and having those orders obeyed, no questions aged. They were used to caring and sharing with the members of their company family. My brother and I were fortunate to learn from people with a wealth of experience.
It is my observation that somewhere along the line, knowledge and experience began to lose their value in society. Some say that this is a product of the turbulent 1960's. Perhaps I missed the genesis of this occurrence because I served overseas in the Air Force for most of the late 1960's. I had 32 months of credited overseas service. However a review of history now shows that this could be the point at which my generation started to challenge authority.