Redemption in a Cooperative Spirit

Mike - Moab, Utah
Entered on February 18, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe that our redemption lies within our ability to put aside our fears and focus on a common vision.

For over thirty years I have served as a professional wildland firefighter for the Federal Government on the National Forests and Public Lands of the Western United States. I could have been one of those tired dirty faces that you have seen on your television; painted in a backdrop of flames and smoke over these passing dry and desperate years.

My knees are scarred from the steep slopes that they have carried me up over the years. The slopes on which we chased wildfires using shovels and the other tools of our trade, tools like retardant bombers, helicopters, fire trucks and human cooperation.

Yes human cooperation. To contain thousands of burning acres, it takes more than a bulldozer and a fire hose. It takes a common goal, a common vision and the ability to communicate our common intent.

Through the shimmering heat of all those years I can still see the human faces of my crews, scanning the fiery landscape, looking for an opportunity to apply their ingenuity, perseverance and cooperation to a common purpose. Valiant, kind and driven faces, unknown by those they served. They were looking for a kind of redemption that only serving a common purpose provides.

Wildfire represents a perfect metaphor for human frailty and imperfection. Our fears burn brightly, as we endeavor to get ahead in an increasingly competitive world. Just as wildfires lay waste to the landscape, so too does the ambitions of fearful and desperate people.

It has been said that Wall Street operates on two main human emotions, fear and greed. I suppose that greed measures ambition as much as fear measures desperation. After greed has served to ignite it, fear spreads and the winds of uncertainty does the rest.

When we fight a wildfire, we always keep our eyes on the lookout for spot fires. Spot fires ignite when the wind blows burning embers across our firelines. Often spot fires can ignite many fires at once, thus changing the direction and intensity of the main fire that we were trying to contain. The ambitions of desperate people can be like spot fires, which ignite passions that may serve to make a bad situation worse.

We may all be ambitious and desperate people at various times in our lives. Struggling with our neighbors to find our way through the smoke and fear that conceals the way forward, toward the light and the cool fresh air of hope.

It was during those times over the course of my career, when I joined with my fellow firefighters to scratch a thin line of hope through a hopelessly hard piece of steep ground. United in a common cooperative spirit, we extinguished the fires of our fear and petty differences. We endeavored to better our community, or maybe even save it from the dark and smoky side of our fearful humanity.

In today’s tough economic times, may we all strive to find that most wonderful of all human inventions- cooperation. For in the end I believe that it will take more than billions of dollars to contain the recent economic wildfire and its human devastation, it will take a common goal, a common vision and the ability to communicate our common intent. I have seen human cooperation contain some of the worst wildfires of the 20th century, I know that humanity can do amazing things when we put aside our fears and focus on a common vision. This I believe.