Ignorance: The Wrong Lubricant for Your Fire Department's Machinery

Let me share with you one of my favorite Bible verses. It comes from the Book of Proverbs and says that, "…The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near." Let me first ask you if you are the wise person or the fool. Which is it? This is more a rhetorical question than any other because if you are the wise person, you may well be too modest to acknowledge it. If you are the fool you will not know it nor will you ever admit it. That's just the way it is with fools.

Let me suggest that there are two forms of organizational lubricant which can have an impact upon the machinery of your fire department's organizational operation. You can operate with the smooth and even oil of knowledge. This is a lubricant with the proper viscosity for every situation. On the other hand you may be trying to overcome the effects of ignorance which can truly gum up the works when it comes to getting the job done in your department. 

Before I move to the central thesis of this commentary, let me make a serious distinction for you. It will affect how you perceive my arguments in this blog. At this point let me make reference to the difference between ignorance and stupidity. Trust me when I say that the stupid among us can do more damage than all who are merely ignorant of the facts. However it is the ignorant among us that I want to address today. 

When speaking of ignorance it is my thought to include all of those folks who lack the necessary knowledge or information to perform in a given situation. They do not know, therefore they are truly ignorant. Let me stress that there is always hope for the ignorant among us. We must share our knowledge with them and work to enlighten them as they move through life. 

On the other hand, stupid is a far more dangerous condition. Stupid people know the right way to do something, but insist that they have their own way of doing things, or they simply ignore the conventional wisdom. These people are truly dangerous. It is just a Forrest Gump so rightly stated, "stupid is as stupid does, sir."

My purpose in writing this commentary was to stress the need for us all to reach out to the ignorant among us in order to share our knowledge. The sharing of facts, figures, and data forms the critical basis for growing our individual fire departments. How many of you have ever encountered that stubborn person who refused to even try a new way of doing something. I can recall those who told me that if a particular way of doing something was good enough for his grandfather, it was good enough for him.

I am glad we do not have more of that sort of person. Were our world more widely populated with people like this, we might all still be riding horses or worse yet, running to fire calls while dragging the pumper. YUCK! I am not a member of the old "Iron Men and Wooden Ships" school of thinking. Anyway, we need to take great pains to bring people like this around to the new ways of doing business in this the 21st Century. 

Have you ever met that one special person who practiced the fine art of "active ignorance?" These are the folks who are unwilling to step up and take advantage of the opportunities to learn the proper way. It is bad enough that they are unable to properly perform a given task or duty. These actively ignorant people actually go out of their way to try and lure unsuspecting fellow travelers over to their way of ignorance. Do not tell me that you have never seen such folks. They are out there in the world around us. Worse yet, they may be riding next to you on you fire truck. 

While you cannot always control the actions of these people, I want you to know that you have 100-percent control over how you respond to them. Let me suggest that you should always work to counter ignorance with knowledge. You should endeavor to encircle them with the enlightenment of proper information. Let the dissemination of knowledge become the norm for your fire department. 

A number of years ago, the Adelphia, NJ, Fire Company was faced with an important decision. They could continue the manner in which they had been conducting drills for many years. They were something you had to do because the constitution and by-laws said you must do. Or the fire company could come into the 21st Century and make training a central focus for the organization. Thanks to some really enlightened folks, they chose to do the latter.

We train for the way in which our fire department operations are to be conducted. We put the knowledge out there and encourage our folks to go for it. More than that, we have a nucleus of younger members who pride themselves on their knowledge and their abilities. This culture of training is now part of our organizational mores and our people pride themselves on being able to do things correctly.

Let me also suggest that part of the aura of camaraderie in our fire company revolves around this culture of knowledge acquisition. It is truly pleasing for an old-timer like me to see how well the younger officers in the company have done in creating, building, and nurturing this culture of knowledge.  It is still a tough thing to come up with two fresh drills each month, but our officers are up to the task.

The key has been not to push knowledge, but to ensure that it is available to be seen, acknowledged, and acquired. However, the real rewards come from seeing people gravitate to the world of knowledge. It has been said that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. What we have done is taken the horse to the water and then surrounded him (or her) with a whole bunch of other horses who can be seen drinking the water. More often than not the non-drinking horse will mimic the behavior of those around them. That is how it has worked here in Adelphia.

Let me close by suggesting that you cannot cure ignorance if your interest in self-learning ceases. If people see that you are no longer interested in knowledge, they will begin to doubt the validity of the message you are pushing. My friend, learning is a life-long undertaking.

If you count my time in kindergarten, I have been learning for well over 61 years. I want you to know that as I step up to collect my first social security check in July, I will still be seeking to improve my understanding of the world around me. Let me suggest that the best way to counteract the effects of the sludge of ignorance on your organizational machine is to become a knowledge merchant within your agency. Let me suggest that by bringing the light and warmth of knowledge to bear upon the dark places where ignorance dwells, you can free up the sludge within the engine of your organization and allow the lubricant known as knowledge to move freely throughout. 

Let me suggest that a failure to address ignorance can eventually lead to the death of your organization. Why not join my friends and I in the Adelphia Fire Company. Embrace knowledge and shun ignorance.