Friday, January 29, 2010


Imagine your house is on fire. What do you do?

I’d call the fire department.

Let’s say the fire-fighters save the house. It could have burned to the ground, but they were able to save it. Fire damage was done. It will be costly to fix, but it is so much better than having lost the whole house to the fire. It was costly to the city, paying fire-fighters and maintaining equipment and housing both fighters & equipment and training the fire-fighters and buying equipment, etc. But, my neighbors figure it was worth all the expense, since the fire department was able to stop the spread of the fire and their houses were spared. The costs are high; so, “What do you do?”

I’d bake the fire-fighters some brownies, maybe write an op-ed piece in the local paper extolling the virtues of the fire department, and be very grateful, filled with thanksgiving, for their coming to my aid.

In addition, however, I notice that the fire-fighters broke windows, some of which, in hindsight, they might not have had to break to put out the fire. What do I do?

Nothing. I figure it was an emergency and they had to make split second decisions. Under those circumstances, mistakes are bound to be made. Its the nature of an emergency. I don’t like it and frankly the fire department doesn’t like it either--but under the circumstances I figure these sort of things happen.

Once the fire was clearly being vanquished, I began to wonder what caused the fire. And I was grateful to see the fire marshall, on the scene, already investigating the cause of the fire. As relief comes that the emergency is over my anger begins to swell. I am mad. I want to know what caused the fire. My anger needs an object.

My neighbor points out that I campaigned against a local ordinance mandating that every home have working smoke detectors. At the time, I did not believe the government needed to intrude into my life--my home--by making it a crime to choose not to have a smoke detector. I said that even if the ordinance passed, I would then fight the funding for enforcement of the ordinance. I firmly believed there was too much government regulation in our lives. My neighbor said, that at the time, I had convinced him--but now, after my house burned, he was going to buy a smoke detector as soon as possible. I ask myself, am I a big enough man to admit I was wrong?

No. I’ll wait for the Fire Marshall’s report and assign blame elsewhere. What’s the point of blaming myself? And then I begin to wonder--what will the Fire Marshall find? What if that wiring, I had repaired by the “moon lighting” electrician, and never had inspected, caused the fire? What if my insurance will not pay for the damage, if my actions caused the fire? I’ve got to study the policy--quick. I resolve, no matter what the facts, I will not allow this to become my fault. I rethink the baking of brownies and the writing of op-ed pieces. Maybe I will sue the fire department for the unnecessary damage done to my home. If I am implicated, I can object to the Fire Marshall, maybe I can claim that he had it in for me since I had opposed the smoke detector thing. Then, maybe I can get the Fire Marshall fired and everyone will then doubt his investigation and the city will pay for the whole thing just to get me to shut up and then it will not matter what my insurance company will or will not pay. I’ll be put right. I wonder if I can sue for more and make a little money on this deal. Maybe move to a bigger house. I never really liked this one anyway.


Now, in this tale, I wonder...who is the home owner whose house burned down? What could the house be? Who are you in this story? How could the story have ended differently? If you could tell the story, how would you tell it?


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Crutch said...

Yours is a great story about "guilt givers." It took me a long time to realize how much power an otherwise insignificant person can yield if they but start hurling guilt whenever the mood strikes. It helps if they are also perfectionists.

By definition, the people around such individuals can rarely please them--that would rob them of their "power." You can dance like a marionette on a string which is what they want never resolving the basic problem. You can blow your stack, draw your line in the sand, wave your arms and curse, possible scaring such an individual away. Ronald Reagan's "shucks" or the current generation's "whatever" defuses an issue that you don't intend to yield ground on, maybe.

Dealing with such individuals with grace and good humor and without judging them harshly requires more EQ than I think I have many days. I'm always amazed at people who don't lose ground and don't lose control when it gets tough like your story describes. A rare gift.