The Bald Mountain and Pole Creek Fires: A Lesson on Humanity and Arguing

Recently my very little neck of the woods experienced the first and second most serious fires in the nation at the same time. (And then the fires merged, but we still just refer to them as two fires.) These weren’t the most serious fires in the history of the nation, but they were the most dangerous and serious fires in the country at the time.

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Photo Credit: Eric Melander — We spent our Not Back to School Party this year swimming and kayaking in this pond. We kayaked right under that bridge, even.

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

In fact, they are still burning a little, although severe rains and flash flooding predicted for the next few days will most likely take out whatever is left – and send it slamming down the mountains evacuating residents yet again.

As far as natural disasters go, we aren’t doing so well around here right now.

(UPDATE: As of today – about 2 days after first working on this post, no homes have been damaged by burn scar mud slides. At least that I know of.)

The fires came within 1/4 mile of people’s homes. Thousands were evacuated. Over 2000 firefighters from around the nation were called in. We had choppers, tankers, and a gazillion fire trucks and other fire equipment rushed over as fast as possible.

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

Very quickly we all learned about dozer lines, containment procedures, how much we really detested the persistent red flag warnings, and how to check air quality levels. (Purpleair.com for the win. It became my second most visited website – Facebook being number one because that was where all the fire updates were posted.) We spent every evening stalking the Utah Fire Info Facebook Page for live video feeds from the community meetings around the area. The incident management personnel giving the morning updates via Facebook also became a standard addition to our morning routines.

 

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

But every day the fire grew. It burned all our favorite hikes. It burned up the cattle on the mountainside. It burned up the largest white pine in North America. It burned up our camping spots. It burned up our waterfalls. And every night we watched it burn from our backyards. In the morning, though, we couldn’t see anything. Smoke had completely hidden the view.

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Photo Credit: Me! Ha! That’s why these next few photos are kind of junky. These three are from my backyard on three different days. Mountains – now you see them. Now you don’t. I didn’t get a photo of the days with the worst air quality because we didn’t dare go outdoors on those days. This is an evening shot and…

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…this is a morning shot.

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When the fire jumped the highway, all of the sudden two more communities were put on alert. As one state representative put it, 7 out the 9 cities in her area were seriously affected by this fire. More evacuation and pre-evacuation notices were issued. More community meetings were held. The winds just kept blowing and the fire just kept spreading.

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

We had thought the Coal Hollow Fire from the previous month had been bad! You know, with that firenado and everything? That sounded scary.  But this one was just so much worse.

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Photo Credit: Eric Melander

However, while the fires heated up and burned out of control, people’s hearts softened and cooled down a few degrees. All the politics, the anger, the selfishness, the entitlement, the jealousy and resentment – they lost their bite. Those awful divisive feelings melted away. Instead of taking offense to whatever was said, nobody said anything offensive! And nobody took offense to non-offensive comments. 😉 All people wanted to know was how they could help. Nobody who had been evacuated – not one out of the thousands – spent the night in the shelter set up by the Red Cross. In fact, the Red Cross shut down the shelter soon after they set it up. Why? Because those evacuated who didn’t have family close by, or a trailer of their own they could stay in, were offered places to stay by friends and even strangers, just people concerned for the welfare of others and willing to open up their homes to those in need. Business after business began advertising – free Sunday lunch for all evacuees, free full rec center passes for all evacuees until they can get back into their homes, free breakfast, lunch, dinner, free laundry services, free hair washes, free this, free that.

People just gave.

Free shelter for evacuated livestock – not just cats and dogs, people. Livestock. “I’ve got enough room for a few horses – please contact me!” “I can take anything the size of a goat or smaller. I’ve got room for about 50. Please let me know who still needs help.” “Chickens! I can take lots of chickens! Who needs a safe place for their hens?”

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

Donations for the firefighters were brought in, even exceeding the capacity of the storage facilities. The second most frequently asked question on Facebook – after “What is the status of the fire?” – was “What do the firefighters need and how do I get it to them?”

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

“Our” 2000 + firefights did not go wanting. One of my friends put it perfectly when she said, “You know something is going right when the most recent urgent notice about the fires in your community is to please, stop bringing the firefighters more brownies.” If one firefighter had a request, two people in my little south end of the valley provided it for them. Signs around town (multiple towns) said things like, ” ‘Thank you’ will NEVER be enough,” and “We LOVE our firefighters. Please be safe!”

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter (This is one of my favorite signs!)

It was one of the most loving, compassionate, unifying, uplifting, and hopeful things I have seen in a long time.  Not just one person showing love and kindness, but thousands.

That is humanity. It is human to err. It is human to be selfish and defensive – or even to sometimes be offensive. But humanity is to care, to love, to nurture, to forgive, and to serve regardless of who you are or who the other person is. If you are human, another human will take care of you.

What does this have to do with arguing? (Remember the post title?)

On Facebook – because really, Facebook is the facilitator and transmitter of some of the most/more ugly things in our culture – as the evacuees starting going back to their unscathed, yet very smoky, homes, things went back to “normal.”

If one person made a comment about an issue, there was another person there to insult them and “prove” that person was wrong and they themselves were right. Both parties, of course, giving no proof, no data, no logical reasoning, but just inflammatory memes as back up for their positions.

In a situation I paid particular attention to, when a friend pointed out the inaccuracy of a particular meme, but offered no opposing opinion towards the message the meme was trying to convey, she was viciously verbally attacked and accused of having agendas involving the oppression of whole groups of people by the woman who originally posted the said meme. When the friend pointed out that was not the case, but that she was only trying to bring truth to a misleading image, the attacks only intensified with more anger than before.

These were attacks based on anger, frustration, opinion, inaccurate history, no background knowledge of the situation, pride, and emotions left completely unchecked. The original argument had to do with the American school system and its alleged failure to teach certain histories about oppressed people on purpose. Well, I happen to believe that history books are moving more towards highlighting oppressed people, but what they are not teaching children is how to argue.

The outrageous, eye-roll inducing, and simply frustrating “arguments” being played out in the media and on social media all the time are not arguments at all.

They are quarrels. It’s just fighting.

What happened to truth? Not subjective truth, or I-feel-this-way-so-it-is-therefore-true, or even I-was-told-this-so-it-is-therefore-true, but actual Truth? With a capital “T.” What happened to reason and logic? To research? To critical thinking? (And again, not the critical thinking currently taught, which is to be critical of everything just your parents have taught you.) It seems like it isn’t just children who don’t know, but adults, who have no ability to think clearly anymore. Feelings and emotions have taken over where once intellect, objectivity, research, questioning, and rethinking old hypotheses once ruled. There is certainly a place for emotion, but emotions left unchecked, and letting your feelings determine your fate is a dangerous road leading straight to disaster. Reality doesn’t care how you feel. Therefore, if how you feel about something is the thing determining your reality, you may end up living in a world all by yourself. It is a lonely, angry, victimized, oppressed, prideful, and horrible place to be.

My 6th grade son just finished a chapter in his Writing and Rhetoric books learning about arguments and quarrels. This, here, is the first point of this blog post. An argument is a logical, reasoned, opinion based on facts that you give to support your point of view. It is not a personal attack. It is not offensive. It is not insulting. And it’s purpose is to explain, describe, and convince those listening – not to shame, embarrass, deceive, or seek power over someone else. The opposite, then, would be a quarrel. Just take everything I said and reverse it – that’s a fight. Additionally, those who give arguments should remember that when it is their turn to hear the other side of the story, the opposing argument, they may learn things they never knew before that may change their opinion on the matter. And there is NOTHING wrong with that. In fact, that would be great! They would be getting closer to the the Truth of the issue (capital T).

In the following chapter of this same book series, my son learned how to find weakness in a person’s argument – NOT to find weakness in a person. Is it unclear, unbelievable, improbable, or improper? Again, not the person, but the argument.

Next year he will start learning about informal logic, then formal logic, and cap his introduction to arguing with finding and avoiding fallacies by participating in debate. All the other children will follow this same pattern, even though it takes up so much precious time we could spend doing so many other valuable things.

Why?

Why am I going through all the trouble? Is it because I just want my kids to always be right? Admittedly, no matter how soft it may hit you, it doesn’t feel very good to find out you were wrong, especially when it was about something you were really passionate about and just knew you were right about.  (You know, you had that feeling.) Do I want them to be able to gloat at always outsmarting, out speaking, and out rhetoricizing everyone else? (Here comes my second point.)

No. It is because the world needs more humanity. It is because my children, and all people, need to know how to treat other people with respect. They need to know how to communicate with respect. Logical, reasonable arguments provide information, sound conclusions with respect and dignity.

I hate the bickering. I hate the mudslinging, the outrage, the lies and deceptions, the inflammatory stirring of America’s pots. I hate it. It is abusive to all of us who live in this country. We are all oppressing each other, simply in the way we communicate to one another. Can we even call what is going on “communication,” the interchange of thoughts, opinions or information? Or are they now just verbal attacks?

(And those meme makers? Seriously, they don’t even have to try anymore! People will believe almost anything that hints of a hint of a smidgeon of truth as long as it fits how they feel.)

Arguers do not attack. Arguers think and rethink. Arguers research and study. Arguers are firm, but present their cases in a dignified, respectful, and polite way. Even if no one left in the world could put together a logical, reasonable argument for anything, I would still want my children to know how to treat people with respect, even those who were verbally attacking them on social media. (Also, I would have hopefully taught them by then that it isn’t worth it, and it’s best just to be quiet and walk away from the screen.) And if in their political, social, educational, or professional lives they come against people who have only been taught to feel and to fight, I want my children to respond with an argument. I want them to respond with humanity. Because that is what all people deserve, regardless of their opinions. Isn’t that what God teaches us? Didn’t Christ suffer and die for ALL men and women? Isn’t that one of the founding principles of our nation? That ALL men are created equal? If we believe that, why don’t we treat each other that way? All arguments aren’t equal and shouldn’t be treated as such, but all PEOPLE are. There is a better way to communicate.

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Photo Credit: Eric Melander – This photo was taken about a mile and a half south of my house. Obviously, I personally was never in any danger – except from the poor air quality.

Those same people, abusive to each other hidden behind a screen, are the neighbors, evacuated from their homes that we are taking in. They are also those people selflessly sacrificing to upend their lives to take us, the evacuees, in. They are those people to whom we are donating endless amounts of coffee, clean underwear, chapstick, gatorade, socks, and stamped postcards to send home to their the children they love and miss. They are those people who spent some of their savings, some of their meager earnings, some of their Christmas funds, to make sure we were comfortable, well fed, clothed, rested, and washed clean again.

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Photo Credit: Eric Melander

We should, but we don’t, think of our neighbors as our neighbors. And who is my neighbor? Everyone is my neighbor. How quickly we remember when there is a fire – and for us locally, starting two days ago, when the flood warnings first started coming in.

But then again, how quickly we forget. I think one of the reasons may be because we don’t really know how to communicate respectfully. When an intense emotional experience is shaking our world – like a fire, a flash flood, or a terrorist attack into the World Trade Centers, we are emotionally drawn and are right to help, love, and serve. The emotional drive feeds the simple logic that serving is the right thing to do. But when there is no unifying emotional event we can all bond around, we pick and choose what feels best to us, whether or not the facts point in that direction. We have become fabulous at fighting with people who feel different than we do, but we are completely uneducated in how to actually talk to them about our differences.

I try really, really hard to teach my children to treat others with respect, no matter what. I try really, really hard to teach them to love people, even when they may dislike them. I try to teach and show them God’s love is not limited towards any one group of people or any one ideology – or even one religion.  I am not perfect at any of this. In re-reading my words above, I can even see how my frustration and anger my be derailing my own argument. I have a lot of repenting and heart softening to do myself.

Passion is not a bad thing. But it puts blinders up. When we are so fired up and passionate about any position, we are in danger of becoming unable to see the opposing side of our position in a rational and honest manner.  Unmanaged passion is often described as a fire for a good reason.

It burns.

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Photo Credit: Rick Carpenter

Respect, humanity, and arguments – the ability express a position reasonably, logically, and with respect – can cool the heat and heal the divisive wounds igniting seemingly everywhere we turn.

I have had enough of the flames, scorched earth, destruction, horror, pain, and sorrow. I wish those things weren’t a reality of life for anyone. But if truth be told, I can’t put out the flames. I don’t have tankers or choppers or dozers. In fact, I have little to zero (emphasis probably on the zero) influence over anyone person or group of people on this planet.

Except my children.

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Photo Credit: You should know by now that if the photo looks like a child took it, the photo credit goes to me. Things were looking quite a bit better at this point – though some nights we could still see flames – yes, even from standing on this exact spot – and the evacuees weren’t home yet.

I can teach my children. I can teach them love. I can teach them respect. I can teach them to show those things, even while disagreeing with others. I can teach them to research, and to think critically. I can teach them to be listen and accept humbly when they are indeed wrong. I can teach them logic and reasoning.

In short, I can teach them how to argue.

And if for no one else, the world will be a better place for them and for those they communicate with.

*Please look up Eric Melander on Facebook and Instagram. You will love what you see (He even makes fires look good, people!) Rick Carpenter can also be found on Facebook and has amazing shots! This is another reason I am lucky to live where I do – I’ve got fantastic photographers nearby who are willing to share some of their photos with me. Thanks guys!