As many of you know, I have a deep and abiding love for old movies. Countless happy hours have been spent watching the work of actors who have long ago passed on to their reward. Maybe it is a longing for a bygone era, or just a love of the old days. Anyway, I really enjoy watching movies which portray the way things were in the past. Truth be told, there are times when I feel that in an earlier life, I may have been a tuba player in the Newark Fire Department Band of the 1920's.
So it was the other day when I was passing time watching yet another pre-World War II movie on the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) network. The movie in question was called One Foot in Heaven. It was a 1941 release which discussed the life of a Methodist minister as he lived his life of service in the early part of the 20th Century. Not only was the message good, but there was a well-done scene involving a fire in a church parsonage just before World War I. However, one of the major lessons I learned from this movie came from a sermon during the first 30 minutes.
It seems that the pastor, played by Frederick March, had been critical of a number of things which were being put forward by his children and the younger members of his flock. It involved that new-fangled invention, the silent movie. He railed against them in general, even though he had never attended a single performance. However, after his son talked him into going to a performance, he came away impressed with the message of morality taught by the movie.
As he was leaving the theater, he bumped into his wife and a number of his church members who seem somewhat shocked to see that he had actually been in the theater. When asked for his thoughts on the movie, he states that he learned an important lesson. He told his wife that he had been mistaken about his personal practice of not listening to the ideas and opinions of the younger generation.
In the next scene he goes on to preach a really neat message in his next sermon, which was entitled, "He Who Ignores the Younger Generation is Dead." Now maybe that title was a bit extreme, but I personally think that the message has merit. The balance of the movie is spent showing how he embraces the idea of broadening the role of youth in his ministry.
As he moves from congregation to congregation he works to spread the value of his youth-oriented approach to the ministry. As you might imagine, he ruffles the feathers of a lot of senior members in each succeeding flock. He also manages to get his butt chewed-out by his bosses from time to time. But his impact upon the faithful is great. This is, of course, the message of this movie. The young should be included in every aspect of an organization's life.
Let me make this a bit more personal. Many of you know that one of my personal goals has been to designate the decade of my 60's as a time of sharing. What good have my decades-long efforts to gain knowledge been if all that the knowledge does is sit quietly residing within the confines of my brain? Over the years a great many people have been generous with me. Whether it was in the Air Force fire service, Adelphia, Rahway, Newark, the International Society of Fire Service Instructors or the NFPA, there have always been those who took the time the guide me in the direction of knowledge and share their experiences with me.
Let me suggest to you that there is a real message here for all of us. Many times I have spoken about how the younger members of fire departments around the country are running off the older members are grabbing the power for themselves. I have made reference to this many times. The younger generation seized the mantle of power and then works to run off the organization's veteran members. I have seen this happen in a range of organizations both within and without the fire service.
As a veteran member I take umbrage at this. However, rather than speaking against it, maybe I should be asking a simple question. Why is this happening? A follow up question might be, "what can be done to prevent this loss of institutional knowledge?