This project - urging America to create a culture of preparedness - has led me to spend a lot of time thinking about the best ways to go about this.
It's not enough for you and me to put some water and storable foods aside, or a "get home bag" in our car. It's not enough to buy some guns and ammo. It's not enough to take a first aid class.
We need to be encouraging others to do the same.
What's more, we need leaders in the movement. People who not only encourage others to become better prepared, but who are resources themselves. People who know what's going on in the world. People who help others. People who vote. People who are active in the community. In other words, people who are watching out for our communities.
I'm reminded of a passage in Ezekiel 33:
Once again a message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’
“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.
(Ezekiel 33: 1-9, NLT).
Who are the watchmen and watchwomen of our communities? They are scout leaders, PTA moms, church volunteers, civic leaders and community activists. They are bloggers, city council members, and charity workers. They are also storm spotters, disaster recovery volunteers and reserve sheriff deputies. But perhaps no one embodies the qualities of the watchman more than the volunteer firefighter.
The National Fire Protection Association issued a report in November 2014 regarding the various staffing issues of fire departments nationwide. One alarming conclusion from the report - from 1987 to 2013, the number of volunteer firefighters in America has steadily declined. In 1987, there were 8.05 volunteer firefighters for every 1,000 people in the country. That rate has fallen; in 2013, there were only 6.46 volunteer firefighters for every 1,000 people. When you consider 69% of all local firefighters in the United States are volunteers, a reduction in their numbers means there are fewer firefighters for a growing population.
The problem isn't limited to the fire services. U.S. News reported in 2014 that volunteering hit a decade low in 2013. And in our farm team for watchmen, the Boy Scouts of America, the news is bleak - Boy Scout membership fell for 13 consecutive years between 1998 and 2012.
It seems America is losing its watchmen and watchwomen. It's time to bring them back.
In the coming months, I want to have a conversation about what makes someone a watch man or woman. To begin that discussion tonight, I want to share with you some qualities I ascribe to such individuals. You may have others to add to this list. For purposes of this discussion, the watch man or woman is:
Aware. The watcher pays attention to the news and to their surroundings. This awareness not only provides immediate physical protection for the watchman, but also enables him or her to identify opportunities to help others.
Up to date. The watcher knows what's happening in the news on a global, national and local scale. The watcher is up to date on the financial markets and the local weather forecast.
Shares what they know. Watchers don't simply accumulate skills or knowledge. They eagerly share what they know with others when appropriate.
Sounds the alarm prudently. No one is served by sounding the alarm prematurely or tardily. A watcher's reputation should be such that when they do alert people to a problem in their neighborhood, it is something worth a citizen's time and attention.
Has a servant heart and mindset. Like the volunteer firefighter, the watcher must be willing to put themselves in a position of inconvenience from time to time in an effort to help others.
Is spiritually prepared. If the watcher is a person of faith, they have a good understanding of their belief system and live by it as best they can. All watch men and women - regardless of their spiritual beliefs or lack thereof - live by a code that requires them to be mindful of the needs of others, to prepare themselves and their families for possible emergencies, and to be willing to be a leader in a crisis.
Is temporally prepared. Faith is a wonderful thing, but the watcher needs to have his or her family's physical needs squared away. This means different things for different people, of course. At the end of the day, the watchman or watchwoman must ask themselves if their family is in a position to ride out a difficult time or crisis with minimal inconvenience.
Has useful skills. A watcher knows how to do stuff. How to do CPR. How to change a tire or jump start a car battery. How to build a fire. How to run a chain saw. With the advent of the internet, it's never been easier to learn new skills than it is today.
Respects the rights and choices of others even if they don't agree with their decisions or beliefs. We are not required to agree on everything, but we do need to get along. A watchman or watchwoman is able to put aside differences in religion, politics, personal belief systems, gender, sexual orientation, race and any other issue to work with others in their effort to be a good citizen.
Is charitable with their time and resources. Everyone wants to be a patriot until it's time to do patriot stuff. Our founding fathers pledged their lives, their honor and their sacred fortunes to the cause of an independent nation. We need to be willing to support causes that strengthen our communities with our time and money. That's what patriots do. And watchmen and watchwomen are patriots.
Is emotionally stable. We all have challenges in our lives that affect our mindset, attitude and self esteem. Watchers need to be able to keep a mentally healthy mindset. And if they need help doing so, they should seek help without hesitation and with maximum effort, for their own benefit as well as their family's.
Is logical in situational assessments. A watcher is willing to think critically and incorporate data and information that challenges their preconceived notions.
Actively participates in the community. The watchman and watchwoman's influence is in large part the result of their willingness to get involved in efforts to improve the community. Be it a neighborhood association, a run for city council, the local PTA or food bank, the watcher actively engages in community involvement both as a leader and as a servant.
Understands functions of government and politics. Many people choose to be blissfully ignorant of the political process and how government works. The watchers regularly read up on the political issues of the day and have a good understanding of the government process.
Is physically fit. While most of us never seem to achieve the level of fitness that we'd like, watchers make the effort to stay in reasonable shape. This enables them to be more effective in the community and during emergencies.
Learns from, but does not shrink away, in the face of criticism in their efforts as a watcher. Watchers are human - it's tempting to withdraw if their efforts are criticized or unappreciated. Instead of being deterred, watchers must press forward, learn what they can from mistakes and criticisms, and continue their role.
Leads by example. Leadership is a willingness to take initiative. Watchers are not the "bosses." They are the doers of the community. They get involved and encourage others to join them.
Takes decisive action. When it comes time to act, the watchman and watchwoman is a person of action. They may not always take the right action, but they learn from their mistakes and change course when it becomes necessary to do so.
Do you think of yourself as a watcher? What qualities do you aspire to attain or maintain?
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