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What hill would you be willing to die on?

Apparently, its origin is debated, but the implication of "a hill that one is willing to die on" is a goal, principle, or cause that one believes so deeply in that they are willing to make a great sacrifice on its behalf. It’s a warning that the struggle you’re facing could cost you everything—maybe not literally your life, but your job, or a friendship, or something else you can’t get back.

Decisions on whether to fight could be very practical and easy to explain, or they may be very personal, and difficult to defend. One’s reasons may be deeply rooted in courage, fear, experience, or simply attributed to a lack of sleep. These filters cause a person to stop and think whether the sacrifice is worth making, or whether it would be a waste to expend it on an issue no more important than this one.

Choices related to when and how to take a stand is an area of professional development that we need to spend more time exploring. Whether on the fire ground or in the firehouse, the implications of ignoring these lessons can have significant physical, emotional, and even legal consequences. But, this can be hard. Balancing the innate relational side of the job with a responsibility to conform to a list of “industry standards,” could require participants to peel back a few protective layers that may expose a wide range of fight or flight insecurities.

There is a distinct difference between a mountain worth risking your security and reputation over, and a molehill that may require a simple sidestep in order to avoid a twisted ankle. Charging them all with equal fervor is at the very least a nuisance that will eventually be ignored, and at most, reckless. Thus, not all hills should be defended to the death. Instead, one should consider their own value system as a touchstone from which to evaluate the risk.

Personally, the hills upon I am willing to fight are forged by my faith, my family, and my failures. Regardless of the influence, the first two in this list are likely common to all; faith and family represent the seeds of our personal constructs. But, it’s a notion of failure, both my own and those around me, that tend to provide me with the greatest filter. A concern for failure has driven me to work a little harder than some with more inherent talent. Out of necessity, it allowed me to better understand what I do well, and that which does not come so natural. By extension, I’ve also learned to better appreciate the gifts of others, and the value of giving ample praise, particularly when their efforts or talents exceed my own.

Failing has taught me that competitiveness can be a gift or a yolk around my neck. It’s required me to redefine what it means to be successful. Sometimes painfully, I learned that trophies are plastic and easily broken, but an investment in people can keep you company, even in an empty room. I learned that the pain from failing goes away quicker if you own up to your mistakes; and, I discovered that if you handle it right, sometimes you can earn more respect emerging from a problem than you had when your slate remained clean.

Most of all, the elements of faith, family, and failure continuously remind me that I am a work in progress. As a husband, I could help my wife more around the house; as a son, I could spend personal time; as a brother, I could take more motorcycle rides; as a grandfather, I could read more stories to the kids; and my family and friends should never be left to wonder about how important they are in my life.

My Personal Hill

The cornerstone of a healthy fire department will always be its people. Treating our employees’ well, from the moment the job flyer is posted until long after they have retired, will have a direct impact on their job performance, recruitment/retention, efficiency, self-esteem, and overall physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. This also means that they should be well trained, provided professional goals and development, and be held appropriately accountable.

Nowhere in this equation is there room for harassment, bullying, exclusion, taunting, or hazing. This statement looks like something hacked from the inside cover of an HR manual. But, there are too many firefighters and fire departments making headlines on some news agency’s internet page to ignore that fact that these conditions still exist. Reading further into the body of these articles, and subsequent law suits, can be as enlightening as having interviewed those impacted directly. People are still doing stupid things that would not be permitted within their own homes, but have somehow made it to their firehouse kitchen tables.

So, if I were to lose my cool, step over the line, and charge a hill, it’s a good chance that someone has coated their poor treatment of others in a paste of leftover traditions and bad manners. Oh, and making comments that restrictions have tighten so much that you cannot have fun anymore, is nonsense. It is what you make it.

We should all have a hill; which would you be willing to die on? Perhaps we should begin encouraging each other to engage in a series of discussions about the battles we are all facing. Accountability will remain a central theme, but the dialog will also provide a platform for engaging different strategies in order to keep ankle twisting molehills from turning into insurmountable mountains.

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