Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brotherhood versus Enemies

If there are concepts that are polar opposites, Brothers and Enemies are great examples.Brotherhood means treating the people whom you call "brother" as if they were indeed blood relatives.Practicing the concept can sometimes be a little tricker, as brothers sometimes engage in family fights.

I have three brothers, and when growing up, I often lost fights to both the two older ones, who were bigger and more powerful, and a younger one, who was sneakier and not afraid to fight dirty. Let someone else pick on me though, and my brothers would turn on them in a split second.

Firefighting brotherhood is supposed to be like that, even when we disagree. Usually it is, but some firefighters bandy the word "brotherhood" about without having the slightest idea of how to practice the concept. When firefighters have a disagreement and one proclaims the others are his "enemies" over a disagreement, that firefighter intentionally sets himself outside of the brotherhood.

When I made mistakes, my two older brothers tried to straighten me out by discussing the situation and suggesting ways that I could improve upon my actions. A lot of the time, I listened to reason and found that my older, more experienced brothers were indeed right. Sometimes I didn't listen, and found that my brothers became more pointed in their advice; sometimes to the point of directly intervening if my actions would result in harm to myself or to others. Sometimes even that wasn't enough, and I ended up in the hospital getting sutures or other medical care.

The cuts and bruises were sometimes the only way I learned my lesson, but my brothers never let me do anything that would cause really serious injury to me or to anyone else.On the other hand, I wasn't stupid enough to declare myself as an "enemy" to my brothers, because my brothers simply meant too much to me.

My firefighting brothers and sisters are like that. Sometimes we disagree, and sometimes the more senior members give counsel to the younger, less experienced members as well as having discussions among ourselves as to which ways are the best to do things. We don't run around calling each other "enemies" if we expect our brothers to treat us like family, or if we plan to be accepted as a brother or sister, or if we engage in behavior characteristic more like a declared enemy than like a brother.

And...if we declare war against our brothers and sisters, we no longer can claim to be a part of the "brotherhood". If we declare that other firefighters are "the enemy" or "the problem" in a public place, then retract it and run away, we don't have the right to claim "brotherhood" with other firefighters. Part of being a brother is to share common danger with each other's help. That action is not chacteristic of enemies.

Running away in the face of danger or disagreement isn't brotherhood. It's symptomatic of feeling guilty about something."And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth..." Leviticus 26:37

One of the best things about the firefighting brotherhood is the strong bonds of friendship that results from sticking together in the face of danger; we unite against a common enemy. Friends are important in this business. "Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate." Al Brunacini

Brotherhood means being careful of what you say about each other. Enemies are under no such compunction. "An enemy generally says what he wishes." Thomas Jefferson

It's good to have a lot of friends, and few - or no - enemies.

"He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare, and he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friends are most important, particularly in the face of someone who declares himself to be an enemy, then conducts attack after attack. Friends help defeat those attacks, and eventually the one who has declared himself to be an enemy will turn tail and run...often becoming anonymous and hiding in an attempt to deflect further attention. I'm proud to be called an enemy by someone who doesn't understand brotherhood and I'm proud of my brothers and sisters who stood by me in an attempt to show someone who labeled me an enemy the error of his ways.

As Winston Churchill once said "You have enemies; Good, that means that you have stood up for something..." I try to stand up for firefighter safety, being smart about firefighting and fire training, and for speaking out when I see things that I don't think are right. I'm extremely appreciative of those firefighters who understand brotherhood and who practice it rather than a vain attempt to grasp it by talking about it without understanding it.

I'm also very appreciative of a senior member of my department who is a member of the NFPA 1403 Committee, and who is not bashful about practicing brotherhood by dispensing good advice when I need it, whether or not I ask for it.

As for declared enemies, they fall into a special category; a category defined by Saul Alinsky when he said "Last guys don't finish nice."

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