Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Boy Who Cried Fire

Once upon a time, there was a boy whose job was to watch for fires. It was an important job, and he took his responsibility very seriously. The Boy understood that fire could destroy his village and, with it, everything he loved, so he did his job with diligence and dedication, determined that no fire would ever take him unaware.

He watched from the roof of the tallest building and clanged a bell to summon the Bucket Brigade whenever there was a need. If he saw a spark in the woods, he clanged his bell. If he saw smoke in the fields, he clanged his bell. If he saw a strange light glinting in the distance, like the light of the sun beating through glass at the right angle to burn an ant hill, he would clang his bell for that too, just in case. He even paid some of the village to give him notice if they saw something suspicious, anything that might be a fire requiring his attention. The Boy took no chances at all, and gave every adverse possibility the highest alert possible. He was the most diligent Fire Watcher the village had ever known, and he worked the Bucket Brigade like they had never worked before.

Unfortunately, for all of his good intentions, The Boy did not have the best grasp of resource management. He focused only on the task at hand, without consideration for possible future ramifications, and the Village Elders, who should have been more concerned with the bigger picture, did not want to dampen his youthful enthusiasm by suggesting that he should maybe tone it down just a little. So things went as they went, until they simply could not go any further. The local resources, not having any opinion on the matter one way or another, gave and gave and gave, until they were gone.

The day came when The Boy rang his bell and there was no response. This was not because no one wanted to respond, but rather it was become no one could respond. The people who made up the Bucket Brigade were laid up with various injuries and illnesses that had resulted from overwork, and their buckets were in desperate need of patches, new handles, and just general maintenance from overuse. Try as they might, the rest of the villagers could not take up the slack, and this was most unfortunate because this was no False Alarm or Maybe Alarm or Just In Case Alarm. This was a Real and True Fire Alarm, at least a Three Banger, the way the village measured such things, and all anyone could do was watch in despair as it ate everything in its path, despite the best intentions of all involved.


We are all familiar with the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, about the consequences of developing a reputation for dishonesty, but I believe that this similar message does not get nearly the attention that it needs. The Boy Who Cried Fire was not being dishonest, and he was certainly not doing anything just for a lark, the way his cousin the Wolf Watcher was doing, and yet the results were nearly identical. In the end, all was lost because the needed response was not there. Good intentions won’t change the outcome of bad decisions.

I bring this up because, far too often, it is a very real problem. People who believe that they are helping actually cause the problems they are trying to solve or, at the very least, interfere with the real solutions because they are not paying attention. They are crying fire at every stray reflection, without consideration of the drain on resources this has to cause. If you point this out, you are inevitably met with, “At least they are trying to help.” Well, maybe, but if I try to help my mechanic, I promise you that he won’t thank me. There is helping and then there is helping. It isn’t all equal.

It requires an increase in public awareness to deal with issues like bullying, mental health, and social pressures. We have to be ready, willing, and able to stand up and point when we see a problem, or nothing will get fixed. We also, however, have to manage our resources. The best intentions in the world will not produce infinite resources, and if we are spending so much time on False Alarms, Maybe Alarms, and Just In Case Alarms that we don’t have the resources left to address Real and True Alarms then we are making things worse, not better.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t address Maybe Alarms or Just In Case Alarms. We just need to do so in a manner that is conscious of our resources and attempts to cut down on False Alarms. Life is full of maybes. There is no getting around that. We have to do the best we can with what we have, and we have to accept the fact that sometimes that means waiting and watching.

That’s hard. Anyone who sets their sights on fixing a problem is usually chomping at the bit to fix that problem. Watching and waiting are not fixing. That is certainly true, but they’re also not making things worse. Just a little something for the impatient to keep in mind.

I have been involved with many Public Awareness missions over the years, and I have seen this problem come up every single time, so I believe that it is something which needs to be acknowledged and addressed early in our mission here. My own path to recovery and health management has not been the same as for everyone else, and the things I say, as a result, will not always be the same as from everyone else. Sometimes we need to say No, and sometimes we need to be told No. “I’m trying to help” is not always a valid excuse.

Good intentions are usually a great place to start. Odds are, if you’re looking to do good then you are, well, looking. You are probably at least launching off in the right direction. The part where people tend to get lost, though, is in not paying attention to the results. If you truly want to do good in the world then it is up to you to see to it that you are doing good. Don’t just throw your intentions out there and then go on about your business. Look at the results. Observe what happened. Was it what you wanted to happen? If not, can you identify why not?

Doing good in the world doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen just by wishing. Doing good is hard work, and intention is only the beginning. If you are not course-correcting based on observed results then you are actually part of the problem, no matter how good your intentions. That is why the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you are not watching the results, you are flailing blindly and, in the process, blazing a trail that nobody wants to follow.

We need to be aware, and we need to make others aware of issues that can make us better people and a better society, but we need to do so in a conscientious manner. Don’t be The Boy Who Cried Fire. Don’t flail around blindly. Observe your results, and change as needed. Pair good intention with good action, and you will be far more likely to achieve good results.

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