This will be my last Educator’s Corner column in a magazine that’s been a foundational learning tool for our profession. I reflected on all the important conversations we’ve had throughout the past year, and I want to leave you with one more thought—one that’s not research-driven but history-driven, yet still relevant to what we do as educators and providers. Allow me the freedom to compare what we do with one of the best military armies of the ancient world: the Spartans.
The Spartans stood against an invading army led by Xerxes, king of Persia, at a narrow pass known as Thermopylae. Three hundred Spartans held off a vastly superior army of over 100,000 Persians, giving the Greek army time to muster a defense. The Persians were so confident they mocked the Spartans by saying, “There are so many of us that when we fire our arrows they will darken the sky.”
The Spartans defiantly replied, “Good … then we will fight in the shade.” The Spartans, with the help of 1,000 Greek soldiers, held the Persians for two days. On the third day, the Spartans became outflanked, so the Greeks pulled back and the 300 Spartans—knowing that theirs was a certain death—held their ground to give time for the Greeks to spread the warning. The 300 Spartans didn’t forsake their defense or each other as they fell to the last man on the final day.
I’m honored to work alongside my fellow EMS and fire educators, who are the
modern-day Spartan warriors. Together we train and educate the minds and hearts of students to react in a predictable and controlled manner—putting service above survival.
In Steven Pressfield’s book The Gates
of Fire, he translated a Spartan oath about their shield.
Law of the Shield
This is my shield,
I bear it before me in battle,
But it is not mine alone.
It protects my brother on my left.
It protects my city.
I will never let my brother out of its shadow,
Nor my city out of its shelter.
I will die with my shield before me,
Facing the enemy.
The shield of today is the patch that we wear on our shoulder, the leather shield on our helmet, or the badge on our chest. In each EMS and fire instructor, there resides a Spartan warrior who comes forth when we dedicate our body and soul to the service of others. Only a Spartan can tell you why they do it and what drives them forward, shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters. Only a Spartan can accept death without stepping to the side— meeting death face-to-face to save a stranger. It’s the same spirit that Lt. Col. Grossman recounts in his book that defines the essence of police, fire and EMS on the response the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he wrote: “They weren’t there, they went there. They didn’t run from the fire, they ran into the fire. They didn’t run down the staircase, they ran up the staircase. They didn’t lose their lives, they gave them.”
Spartans have a passion for life and know just how precious each and every moment is, living it fully until the good Lord calls them home. Spartans understand defending a friend, an idea or a dream from the onslaught of those who destroy great things is life’s greatest work. Spartans believe that too many leaders simply remain silent, so they don’t lose their acceptance in the group. True courage is understanding that life is filled with moments that test our resolve and our principles.
So, Spartan educators—let my final article thank you for the service you perform each and every day. I’m thankful to be standing alongside you with our shield facing forward to fight disease, injury, apathy and all the ills that affect our society. May your hearts be filled with justice, mercy and compassion. May your sword cut through the gossip, pettiness and arrogance that’s too often part of the educational scene. May your shield be a sanctuary for those in need and a place of protection for the next generation of Spartans.
If there’s no other choice, may we give our lives freely for our fellow man, facing death not with fear but with the courage that is born of a Spartan: selfless service, living the law of the shield.