These days, it seems that you can open any of the “industry” related periodicals (that’s magazines to the young people) and find an article about the senior man. They range from how to identify the senior man to the proper techniques on how to bow down to said senior man. The articles often use words like knowledge, experience, time, salt, mustache and many other adjectives to describe the crustiness of said senior person. The snag quotes from Halton and Lasky and place them in bold print so your eye catches the 2 cents thrown in by the industry talking heads. Hell, even I have written about the old medic and how to identify them. So when the idea of earning respect came into my brain, I thought it would be an interesting subject to explore. I’m sure there are articles out there on this very subject but, as is often the case, my brain won’t let the issue go until I write about it. So here we go…..
As an introvert, I have always moved through my career, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I tried to quietly do my work, quietly try to improve my own skills and quietly try to seek out people in the fire service that I thought I could learn from. I have been fortunate to cross paths with some very intelligent firefighters and paramedics that I have been able to absorb as much as I could from before they moved on. Not all of them were officers or senior men or women. Usually I would stay in their shadow, watching how they did things (creepy, I know) but I would occasionally get the courage to ask a question. Those individuals took the time to explain their theories and ideas without looking down their noses or acting inconvenienced. They quickly earned my respect.
I have crossed paths with many people who did NOT earn my respect also. I have listened to them and watched how they operated and deemed them unworthy of my respect. It is a very imperialistic way of categorizing people but it is how my brain works. Those folks would say or do something that turned me off to them. It didn’t matter how long they had been in this business. I would see their flaw as systemic and I believed that it was in their nature to be how they are or do what they did. I was right most of the time.
I have never wanted to be the object of anyone’s respect. I simply wanted to do my job the best I could and leave this business better than I found it. It came to light some time ago that I had my own group of creepers watching my moves and trying to do things as I did them. When I found that out, I was very uncomfortable at first. I have never felt like I know what I am doing so the idea that people would be watching me an trying to learn from me made me a little nauseated and scared. I immediately felt a weight on me that I had never felt before. Real or imagined, it was there.
As with any other weight, the longer you lift it, the less of a burden it is. So I took my new information and tried to examine what it meant to be the one looked up at or respected. I felt I had a responsibility to be better or get better. I have tried to set a good example. I have tried to keep those groupies grounded and make them understand that I am just like them. I want them to learn and grow in this job like I did and want them to be very critical of themselves, always looking inward at who they are. That is what reflects back out in my opinion.
” I am not concerned with you liking or disliking me……
All I ask is that you respect me as a human being”.
— Jackie Robinson
So when I see other people that are looked up to not take advantage of the opportunity to help other people grow, it makes me very angry. They promote their negative attitude, operate in a negative manner and treat people badly. Those traits are picked up by those who view them as idols and get repeated. It is a shame. The worst part is that the young firefighter doesn’t know they have learned a bad habit until they are disciplined or become self aware enough to realize they have been duped. My mother was an elementary school teacher and she always said that it is twice as difficult to unlearn something than to learn it. I truly believe that. I see it as time wasted. They could have used that time to do good in the world instead of causing a negative impact.
Respect is as delicate as fine china. You can destroy it with one wrong move and it will never be the same. If you are the one that is looked up to, realize that you have an opportunity to make real change. Don’t have an inflated ego and try to make clones of yourself. Use your minor celebrity status to challenge the status quo of this business and the ideas that people have about it. Use it to challenge people as well. Get them engaged in developing this business and changing our world. Keep them questioning what they hear from the industry talking heads. Help them be critical thinkers. It is your opportunity to make change.
If you are someone who has realized that you have been sending the wrong message to the people that look up to you, it’s not to late to change. You have a tough job ahead of you but you can unlearn some bad habits and change your attitude. You have to be self aware enough to know what to change. You can change though. It is possible.
You must understand the power of self respect, before you can see the power of earning respect from others. That is the true power of earning!
Stay safe and watch each others six!