EMS bulletin boards can be enlightening.
A few months ago I spotted a question about fentanyl shortages on a popular website. Although we don’t carry fentanyl where I work, I was hoping to learn more about availability of other meds. Instead I saw this comment about drug shortages: “Thank the Obama administration for this. This is part of the culture of death being pushed by liberals.”
Such rhetoric without rationale reminded me of 1972, an uneasy time on the campus of Columbia University. I was a 19-year-old engineering student trying to maintain a 2.8 grade-point average while steering clear of Vietnam-era conflict. Mostly, though, I was majoring in meeting women, which is why I joined a rowdy upper-Manhattan march to protest something or other.
At Broadway and 96th Street, someone threw a rock at a bank. Then someone else did the same. Pretty soon stones flew from all directions, aimed at stately, etched glass windows and police officers standing in front of them. Some of the cops started running toward us with batons raised. Having been absent from class the day they covered guilt by association, I didn’t retreat—well, not right away. I waited until I saw the reds of the officers’ eyes, then sprinted over—not around—people, bushes, bicycles, traffic barriers and at least one NYPD cruiser. That was the end of my first and last protest march.
I felt fortunate to have avoided both incarceration and a gratuitous craniotomy. I also was relieved not to have had to explain to parents or professors why I had risked so much for a cause I couldn’t even name, much less justify. It had been so easy to simply go along with the others; no one had asked why. We were too busy parroting the slogans of the day: “Kill the pigs,” “Right on, bomb Saigon,” and the ever popular “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win.” We felt superior to those who didn’t get it, whatever “it” was. We didn’t understand that incendiary words and arbitrary acts often trample more rights than they protect.
I was curious about the person who posted that not-so-conservative remark about liberals, so I looked him up. He’s a first responder, firefighter and business owner. Now that I know that, there are two things I can tell you: I wouldn’t do business with him, and I wouldn’t want him to respond to my emergency. Why would I put my property or my life in the hands of anyone who castigates such a large portion of the population he’s supposed to protect? Even if I’m not part of that segment, blatantly unsupportable generalizations reveal character flaws I’d rather not subsidize. It’s possible to advocate, debate and disagree without impulsively labeling opponents as inferior or, even worse, dangerous. Civilization depends on such tolerance.
These are tough times for fire and EMS. Talk to those who walk in both worlds; they’ll tell you public respect and resources have eroded since 9/11. Yes, we need to change, but some of that must originate from within. I’d like to see more thoughtful discourse, even when we assume such dialogue is strictly internal. We could certainly use the practice. Along the way we’d learn to favor compromise and defuse rancor. Perhaps we could use those skills to market ourselves a little more effectively.
Back in the ’70s, my classmates and I didn’t blame liberals for the ills of the planet; we targeted bankers, senators, republicans, soldiers, astronauts, anyone over 40 (or was it 35?), cops, evangelists, rich white people, men with short hair and poor old Dr. McGill—a nice man who happened to be president of my school for a few difficult years. We were too sanctimonious to recognize that we were guilty of the same arrogance we were protesting. We shorted progress for headlines and hate.
I see change as an iterative process, sparked but not driven by dissent. Whether the target is occupational or political, regional or national, the chances of success improve when advocates offer more than exaggeration and intimidation. Know the issues, set realistic goals and above all, avoid hypocrisy.