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Many times, it has been my good fortune to receive a new thought from an unexpected place. One evening, I found myself in my favorite chair with an old magazine and an even older book. The magazine was a 2001 edition of The New Jersey Freemason. The book was Stephen R. Covey's fabulous The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It was the combination of these two literary works that led to a very late night for me. The inspiration for many a number of problems facing me in different parts of my life came at me fast and furiously.
At first, the message from the Grand Master of Masons in New Jersey at that time seemed fairly simple. He began by quoting that e-mail message of today's young people that many of us have seen on more than one occasion. You know the one. It states in part, "They have never feared a nuclear war. Most have never seen a black-and-white TV..." It is amazing how you can read something many times, and not get the point until it comes to you in a blinding flash. You young people are really quite different from us older folks.
If this then is the case, how can we expect them to join us in any endeavor, unless we can discover what they are all about? While the Grand Master was addressing his remarks to the Brotherhood of Free and Accepted Masons in New Jersey, I felt that he was saying things that crossed the borders of every organization I can imagine. Really folks, is there a more ritualistic or traditional group than Freemasonry? Many of the things we do during our Masonic rituals have passed intact from the days predating the founding of our great nation. But is this concept of change limited to just the Masons? What about all of the rest of society?
Once we understand the motivational factors for people of all ages, we must willingly seek them out and let them share in what we do. And it is critical to approach them in a way that is amenable to them. It has long been my experience that no one likes to join a group where they will be abused, belittled, browbeaten or trivialized. No one likes to be told to do things just because! No one likes to be made to feel foolish every time they ask a question. Unfortunately, this is what is happening all across the spectrum.
Many of us have been in the organizations to which we belong for so many years that we automatically fall victim to the "we've always done it that way" syndrome. The sad thing is that far too many do not even notice the phenomenon at work. Anyone who enters such a group as a new member and begins to challenge the norm of that group, in any way, is made to feel foolish. People tend to want people around them that mirror their view of themselves and their world. Those not fitting in are driven away.
It is a human trait to want things to remain as they are, even though such thinking is a fool's mission. In the Grand Master's commentary, he urges Masons throughout New Jersey to embrace the younger generation. He urges us to seek these people out. But more than that, he urges us to share the reins of power with them. He knows how hard it is to do this, and as a result asks us to make an extra effort in that direction.
Perhaps he has hit at the heart of our problems in the fire service as well. It has been my observation that the leadership in far too many organizations has hung onto the reins of power well past their prime. By clinging to what they perceive to be the proper way to run the fire service, these people may well be creating an organizational environment that has nothing to do with today's young people. It is not relevant and therefore becomes an anachronism.
By now you may be wondering where Stephen Covey's book fits into this discussion. In the early part of his text, he pounds home the need for us to become proactive in our view of the world. He speaks to the fact that if we do not take control of our lives, we possess no right to complain when others begin to call the shots for us. I believe that this is a critical thought that complements those in the paragraphs above. If change is to occur in the fire service, someone has to cause it to occur.