Taking on the ‘woke’ call-out culture

Woke Culture Obama
Screen capture from the Guardian video below.

On October 14 I wrote about criticism and critiques, exploring how in the wildland fire world they can provide a very valuable learning experience or there can be cascading negative repercussions. The outcome depends on the venue in which it is presented as well as the social maturity, motivation, knowledge, and diplomacy of the person expressing their opinion.

That article was followed a few days later by spotlighting Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”.

When I heard about Former President Barack Obama speaking during a panel discussion on October 29 about the “call out culture”, I thought back to those two articles. Mr. Obama may have been referring to criticism related to social issues or politics, but the concept can also apply to discussions about firefighting and forest management — even to issues as meaningless as aggressively calling someone out for not using the most current version of firefighting jargon approved by the U.S. Forest Service, which I saw happen recently (but thankfully not on Wildfire Today).

Below is a transcript of portions of Mr. Obama’s discussion, and after that, a 2-minute video clip from the event:

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly.

“The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you.

“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of, the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough.

“Like if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right, or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because: ‘Man, did you see how woke I was? I called you out.’

“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

Accuracy and Critique

Critique vs accuracy venn diagram

When a wildland fire incident has a controversial outcome it will often be pointed out by those who are knowledgeable on the subject, or by someone who is directly or indirectly affected.

I understand how venting can be cathartic. As long as it is done in private, no problem. If it is done in public there can be cascading repercussions, and therefore more responsibility. At worst, it can be self-serving, cruel, damaging, and counterproductive. But if everything said is completely accurate, and the result can benefit mankind, then the greater good might be served in many situations. At Wildfire Today, I know that sunlight can be the best disinfectant. Helping shine a little light on lessons learned by firefighters through information about reports being released or critique from various sources, might reduce the chances of someone else learning a lesson the hard way — with unpleasant consequences.

Years ago in a comment section on Wildfire Today someone made statements about another person. It was slanderous, not true, and damaged the reputation of a very honorable and skilled professional. Since then I have strived harder to have factual information on the web site. There are times when that objective is not met, but it does not stop me from trying.

Even the best intentioned formal investigations of incidents may occasionally miss the mark of being accurate. Other times the report an investigation team releases might purposefully deceive, or lie by omission. I certainly do not have all the answers, not by a long shot. In cases like these, and others, attention is needed by the hive mind of the wildland fire community.

Critique not meshing with accuracy can keep me up at night.