The critical, title job of a firefighter is to fight fires. Thanks to many improvements in building codes, preventative measures, technology, and awareness, the number of fires has dramatically decreased. Thus the role of the firefighter in the community has expanded to become that of a first-responder to a variety of situations including motor vehicle accidents, paramedic response, and other rescue operations. While not performing these duties or training to perform these duties, there is often a significant amount of downtime at the fire station during which they must be on the premises but are otherwise free to engage in the activity of their choice. Cooking, cleaning, working out, playing games, and watching movies are often among the options. However chatting around the dining area is also one of the preferred past times.
Sitting around the fire station table talking with a number of firefighters I was pleased to find a high diversity of opinions and world views as well as a genuine curiosity and desire to learn more. The extra down time at the station meant that many were well read or studied on many subjects from science to religion to sports. One Sunday I talked with a firefighter who was an atheist who was interested in many topics in science from origins to gene editing to the impact of diet on health. Later that day I spent several hours talking about conspiracy theories with another firefighter, a friend of the first, who believed the earth was flat. Each of these “debates” were friendly, curious, genuine, and colloquial. As the firefighters live in close quarters for extended periods of time in a sometimes stressful environment, they have learned the art of pleasant discourse and courteous disagreement without any of the acrimony and vitriol that has seemed to permeate our culture otherwise.
While stating your point and making an argument it was completely acceptable to disagree but personal jabs were discouraged and the zingers that would normally make the highlight reels on YouTube were out of place. Everyone was attentive to the interpersonal drama as well as the sparring of knowledge. Importantly, no one cut off the discussion or stormed out (unless there was an emergency of course… then you went to the call and picked up wherever you left off several hours later). This is the type of discussion, and disagreement, that we should all be building towards. The type where you can disagree but will not walk out. Where you care more deeply about the relationship than the win. Where your understanding of truth is important; as is being able to clearly understand the other person’s understanding as well. Consider how your arguments would be different if you knew you were going to be fighting fires, cutting apart cars, eating, sleeping, and laughing with that person across from you for days at a time. Be like the fireman. Discuss and dispute like the fireman. Be relational like the firefighter.