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(This column was inspired by a Facebook post on this topic by my friend Bill Carey.)
The story above has a lot of people outraged today. How dare a judge order FDNY to go easy on the current class of recruits to avoid having more of them dropout. Who in the fire service wouldn’t be outraged? Many people are beside themselves over this story. Click here to read the whole article and check out all of the comments to see what I mean.
What really has me concerned for our society is not the story itself. It’s the outrage. I know I am not a medical professional but even I can see from the comments that many of those writing have contracted COD, Compulsive Outrage Disorder. The main symptom of COD is a severe case of blindness, often permanent. It isn’t just afflicting the fire service. The public in general is greatly at risk because of COD. It has spread so quickly, some people, including me, think it is threatening our way of life.
Compulsive Outrage Disorder was first identified many years ago by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan. Essentially what happens with COD is you read or hear a headline or an abstract of a story that seems to go against your own beliefs of right and wrong or contradicts the political party or agenda you most identify with. Without even reading the whole story or trying to understand arguments of those who disagree with you, COD sufferers will immediately vent their anger on Facebook, Twitter and Internet forums. This often leaves the COD sufferer blind to the real facts. The facts become much less important than the emotion.
And such is the case of the FDNY recruit class. Yes, there is a legitimate controversy that has been going on for years related to a Federal judge overseeing a major discrimination case against FDNY. Over the weekend the New York Post published an article that the dropout rate of that class was significantly higher than previous classes. But no, despite what you have read above, the judge did not order FDNY to go easy on the remaining recruits. That article is satire.
The article was posted by the website Call the Cops. Their banner provides a major clue about the “news” published on the site: “America’s 27th most trusted source of public safety news”. If that doesn’t tip you off, click the “About Us” button to find the following:
This site is a satire of the current state of Law Enforcement, Fire Fighting and Emergency Medical work. Stories posted here are not real and you should not assume them to have any basis in any real fact.
Just about every week someone (or many someones) in fire or EMS sends me a story from Call the Cops that has them outraged.
Even without COD, the problem we face in today’s society is that it is harder and harder to be a good consumer of news. It requires us to be more and more skeptical of what we read and to check further into the real facts. It doesn’t take a satirical website to mislead us. Mainstream news organizations, in the rush to compete with social media when there is breaking news, are getting the major facts wrong in some very important stories. In addition, what used to be labeled “commentary” by news organizations is often disguised as “reporting”, particularly on a number of cable news channels.
But it is almost impossible to be a savvy news consumer when you suffer from the blindness that comes from COD. And it is that blindness that may be causing the most danger to our way of life. Our political leaders and political parties count on that blindness to spread their platforms. It is the principle that most political advertising is based on. It is how they sway the electorate.
It’s not about the facts. It’s all about emotion. This is why the focus is not on the issues that are most important, but on the demonization of individuals. It is a big part of the political polarization of our country. And it is probably not a stretch to say COD blindness is one of the reasons that much of the Federal Government has had a “closed for business sign” on it for almost two weeks.
More so than the general public, those in public safety should have a built-in immunity to COD. You are the ones who are best at checking your emotions at the door when facing some of the most stressful situations anyone has to face. If only there was a way to take that skill and apply it across the board so we can always deal with facts and not the emotion.
My suggestion is to follow the example set long ago by a once well-known member of the public safety family. He wasn’t a firefighter. He was a cop. His name was Sgt. Joe Friday and his mantra was, “Just the facts ma’am”.