He Who Preaches to One Generation is Lost

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...

Perhaps the thing which bothers me most is the lack of respect which many of these younger folks have for the wealth of knowledge and experience which the senior members bring to the table in any interaction. It took us a lot of years to gain that knowledge. It should be worth something. I was taught to respect my elders. That seems to be a concept which has lost its way in the 21st Century. 

However, I am now coming to believe that this attitude can, in and of itself, can be a real problem. Perhaps rather than telling every young person how much we know, us old-timers need to step back and ask themselves another simple question. What do these younger members really need to know? There is only one way to handle that question. The various generations of your fire department need to come together in a manner which allows an assessment of the needs of all. 

Sadly many of us veteran members can be (and have been) the problem. Many times I have seen the seniors members fail to share their knowledge or the friendship with the new folks. Their attitude was that they had to work hard to learn their jobs, why should they make it easy on these young whipper-snappers? Frankly, a number of them treated the new people like crap. 

This is a bad move my friends. Getting off on the wrong foot with new members is a disease whose prevention is easy and whose cure is costly. It also takes a lot of time and effort to accomplish. It affects the organizational balance and attitude and can create warring camps among the members. 

Let me suggest that a great part of the problem has been and continues to be that there are many among us just don't take the time to meet, greet, and understand the new members as they join our fire departments. We simply expect them to be like everyone else we have known during our time in the department and expect them to perform according to our accepted patterns of interaction.

Unfortunately, life is not like that. People change over time and successive generations tend to evolve differently. Tremendous amounts of research are and have been devoted to studying the differences (and the similarities) between and among the various generations.

As a Baby Boomer, I grew to adulthood in a certain time, in a certain place, and with a certain sets of values, mores, and expectations. As a military veteran, I learned how to take orders and obey rules. I carried this behavior over into my time in the fire service and the Army National Guard. Much like Popeye the Sailor Man, I am what I am.

The people who have followed along in Generations X, Y, Z, and the millennial generation look at things differently. Their values are different than mine. Their abilities and expectations are no where near the same as mine. It is for that reason that I need to pay attention to what the younger folks are saying. How can I offer advice to the fire service if I have not listened to each of the generations which have followed along on my coattails? When you add the technology revolution to this, inter-personal problems would seem to have become mandatory, rather than optional.

This is a lesson which my pal Jack Peltier and I learned from my daughter Katie a number of years ago. We were at the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore. A number of us were spending some social time at a local watering hole. A number of us were discussing the problems which we were all encountering in the training of the new, younger members of our individual fire departments. Let me say that none of us was on the south side of the age of 50. 

Katie put up with us old timers for awhile. Then suddenly she chimed in with some very cogent comments. She said that it appeared to her that older folks did not seem to want to change. She also mentioned that she felt that older people listened to her just to be polite, or because they thought they had to, rather than to listen and hear what she was really saying.

Katie also went on to state that she was tired of older people thinking that she knew more than she really did, and beginning to teach her new topics at a level which was not appropriate to her actual knowledge base. That was one of her hot-button topics at our little session. I was kept busy jotting down the notes on a table napkin. As a matter of fact, I used that actual napkin from Shula's Steak house as the basis for this section of my commentary. This little scrap of paper has meant so much to me that I have kept it on my desk for nearly ten years. Katie and I still get a chuckle out of that session.