This article first appeared in the May 2001 issue of EMS World Magazine and is reprinted here as part of our EMS Revisited series.
“You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whenever I hear someone complain that life is hard, I remember what Sydney Harris, author of Winners and Losers, says: “Compared to what?” Anyone who has chosen EMS and the fire service as a career can certainly relate to Sydney’s question. All too often, we see death and the toll it takes on family, friends and, yes, each of us. Yet, for some reason that is known only to us, we continue to choose emergency service work as our occupation.
Given the fact that we chose a profession where death is sometimes a daily companion, it always amazes me how often we forget about the important things in life and instead get caught up in issues that create anger, resentment and bitterness toward someone else.
Want to know something? In 15 years of emergency services work, I have yet to hear a person whose life is about to end recall a time they felt angry because of a coworker’s snide remark or a supervisor’s reprimand. Nor have I ever heard “I wish I had more money!” or “I wish I had spent more time at the office!” prior to that last agonal respiration.
Morrie Schwartz said it best. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and having just a few weeks to live, Morrie observed that “Everybody knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.” As it turns out, the dying can teach the living a lot. One of the most powerful lessons is: Our lives are the sum total of every choice we have ever made. It is our intentions that create our reality.
Unfortunately, our world is full of people in the prime of their lives (and careers) who believe life has dealt them a lousy hand. Chances are you know someone in your organization—maybe even you—who fails to take responsibility for their actions.
You know the person. The one who complains about this firefighter or that chief officer; who goes around confessing other peoples’ sins (back-stabbing) when they’re not around. This is the person who will never go to the source of his discontent, choosing instead to persuade others to sympathize with how he’s been wronged. There’s a term for these folks: Snivel-kings (or queens). Snivel-kings blame everyone else for what happens to them.
Didn’t get promoted 20 years ago?
“That was because the chief liked someone else.”
Never been honored as your organization’s “Firefighter of the Year?”
“That’s because I’m not a butt-kisser.”
Your supervisor corrects your behavior?
“Well, I’m not the only one who does that! What about so and so? I saw so and so doing that, and you never say anything to him!”
The snivel-king’s motto?
“Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.”
At some point in our lives, most of us realize that we create what we experience. We understand that no else is responsible for our actions. The fire chief who fails to promote us is not responsible; the committee that neglects to nominate us for our department’s top award is not responsible; nor is the supervisor who corrects our behavior responsible for the feelings of anger and resentment we subsequently feel toward him because of his feedback.
Our ability to respond—our respondability—belongs to us. We can choose years of misery by blaming others for the way our lives have turned out, or we can learn from those whose lives are just about over, take action and create the results we truly desire.
What a concept. By taking your life into your own hands, a terrible thing occurs: No one is to blame! Responsibility for what happens is now owned by you! No one else. And, when you think someone just took a giant crapola on your Cheerios, remember who really did the defecating. It was you! As Dr. Stephen Covey said, “The way you see the problem is the problem.” Gandhi used this principle and brought one of the most powerful countries in the world to its knees. Jesus used this same principle and changed civilization forever. As speaker Les Brown says, “The only limits to the possibilities in your life tomorrow are the buts you use today.”