In public service, we are often faced with difficult situations that no human should be thrust into. We are forced to bear witness to things that would drive most people mad. We live with these things rattling around in our heads, often summed up by the phrase “if my mind could forget what my eyes have seen” that you have undoubtedly seen on t-shirts and Facebook memes. To try to reason with all of the bad, some of us engage in dark humor. It is a type of coping mechanism, I hear.
Or, maybe some of us are just dicks.
I think that is a distinct possibility, owed at least some consideration on our parts.
Are there people actually suffering from mental injuries acquired on the job? Absolutely. I sincerely support their journey to recovery and a return to normalcy. I can only imagine the difficulties associated with living in the aftermath of an experience that breaks you down mentally. The complications in your family life alone would have to be devastating. If these people need a laugh, who are we to judge? In fact, I offer a heartfelt “shame on you” to those that feel the need to pass judgment unto people suffering from issues they can’t possibly understand.
That being said, are there some seriously disturbed individuals in our ranks that abuse the old “Dark Humor” standard for pure amusement? Yes. Yes. Yes. And they are ruining it for everyone.
Both of the aforementioned groups have probably been around since the first caveman (or cavewoman?) came up with the idea to put water on a fire, this is nothing new. So what’s the big deal?
I’ll preface by saying that I have always felt that the most acceptable and useful vehicle for this crude-seeming form of venting takes place at the kitchen table:
You know the drill; “story time” with the seasoned men and women in your department that have probably seen some shit. These guys always have the best stories, and while usually wildly inappropriate and completely devoid of all things “PC,” there is a lesson to be learned if you listen closely.
Rarely do these individuals tell such stories online, or even outside of the confines of the station, because they are not for the public. They are for us.
This is the actual heart of the issue, for me. The stories haven’t gotten any worse, nor are the jokes any more gag-inducing. However, with advances in social media, “story time” has crept out of the firehouse and into places it simply does not belong, namely, into the realm of “John Q. Public.”
“John Q. Public” does not understand the underlying lesson to be learned with each tale. He works in an office or a grocery store, or maybe he sells cars. The legend of that one time the Assistant Chief used a baseball-sized ball of gauze and a tourniquet to stop that spurting arterial bleed your patient suffered during an ill-fated sex adventure will not likely review well with this man.
And it’s not his fault. He’s from a different walk of life, but may as well be from another world.
Gallows Humor comes with the territory, I accept that, and I believe it can be therapeutic. Laugh to keep from crying and such. I would much rather my guys make the occasional cringe-worthy joke to blow off steam as opposed to the excessive drinking and depression that seem to perpetuate troubled public servants.
However, there is a time and place for everything. What is hilarious on Facebook right now may not be funny when you’re sitting for an interview next year or even years after that. The humor in your comments will likely be lost on a panel of respected professionals charged with selecting the best candidate for a job.
In America, freedom of speech is a double-edged sword; you have the freedom to say whatever you want, but you are not free of the consequencesthose words may bring about.
In short; Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
So, where is the line in the sand?
I don’t know.
I doubt that there is a clear line to be found here. Nothing is held sacred, and “too soon” isn’t really a recognized standard in most firehouses.
I think what is more important is where that line is perceived to be by the public. Luckily, this offers a simple fix: stop making it public.
What is said at the table, stays at the table.
End of story, literally.