Friday, May 18, 2012

Pride and Anecdotes

Some thoughts I had after being humbled yet again by education in the classroom and on the drill ground this week:

It takes a considerable amount of arrogance to think you can do something a couple of times a year for a few minutes at a time and consider yourself an expert. Likewise, it takes an equal amount of pride to think you wrote the book on something that has existed in one form or another for thousands of years.

Are there different ways to accomplish our goals? 


In order to grow as true students of the craft we must first be humble enough to admit that we don't know everything. Remember the beginners mind thing?  Beginners are open to any and all ideas because they are aware of their incompetence. 

Do we need to be accepting of science that contradicts or challenges many well-entrenched and widely accepted practices? 

If we're smart, absolutely. 

It's all about evolution. We have to understand that fire is not an enemy that wants to kill us, it is a chemical reaction that can be manipulated and neutralized if we understand the science behind what we do. If we don't understand the why and how of fire behavior then fire can kill us dead absolutely because we allow it to do so.

Its not mysticism, rather it is academia.

"Pride and vainglorious traditions continue to kill and injure American firefighters at a higher rate than in any other first-world nation."

Cast off pride and stop asking, "How many fires have you been to?" Look at our practices and ask, "Is what we're doing really the safest and most effective way to do business?"

Is there a better way? The answer again is yes. Look to science, and look to the rest of the industrialized world. 

Are we brave? 


Do pride and tradition impede progress? 


Do we operate in a profession where the anecdotal passes for truth?


"Because I said so," is not a statement of validation. It is the root of circular logic. 

Unconscious incompetence is the lowest level of learning. We aren’t good at something, we don’t know it, and we won’t admit to it. The first step in getting better at a task is to admit that we need experience and practice.

Honest dialogue - even surrounding topics on which we disagree - can help us guard against arrogance and duplicity. Pride and vainglorious traditions continue to kill and injure American firefighters at a higher rate than in any other first-world nation. 

Are we okay with that?

I don't think we should be.

In the absence of practical experience we must supplement our lack of real-world repetition with a vigorous pursuit of knowledge. 

We must take our knowledge beyond the surface-scratching, anecdotal world that many of us operate in. Experience is something personally encountered , undergone, or lived through. Experienced often refers to someone who has gotten away with doing the wrong thing more often than you have. 

Are we experienced or are we educated? We should strive to be both.

Sometimes in order to progress we must unlearn what we have learned.

Open your mind. Progress is impossible without change. Those who are too prideful to change their minds are incapable of forward movement. We must be ever the apprentice, surrendering to the notion that we aren't transcendental, all-knowing individuals. It is painful to admit, but the sooner we face reality - and the more we seek to reshape our reality - the farther we will go. 

If we are doing things right we will forever remain scholars of the craft.

It's time for a change. Start here.

*See video and related article from The Average Jake.


  1. Very well said.

    I'll be sharing this piece (and your blog) with the members of my company.

    Lt. Rob Fisher - L72

  2. Mark, as firemen, if we don't stay teachable we become politicians!
    Staying teachable also means asking questions, not just accepting things at face value ... managers "just do it", leaders "ask why, when, where" ... great post.

  3. Mark, I completely agree. We need to remain teachable, open to changes that will help us to do our job better and accepting of education that helps us to reach beyond what we have learned. Sometimes, it's true, we do need to unlearn what we learned from others if it proves to be detrimental to our quest for self-improvement. The hardest lessons, it seems, are the ones that will bring out the best in us because we have to look at, and inside, ourselves with total honesty and humility. Keep up the strong work, Bro.

  4. I appreciate your honesty. It is refreshing!