According to my social media streams, yesterday was “Thank a Paramedic Day”. This seems to have been taken up with enthusiasm by various members of the public who have been telling their stories of being treated by paramedics, or more interestingly, just being treated kindly. As a paramedic, this all feels quite nice in a way – a recognition of the work we do and how society values it. But I have some misgivings.
It seems forced. I’m sure there are nothing but good intentions involved, but if I’m to be thanked I’d much rather it be a spontaneous thing in response to a specific thing that I’ve done. I’m not sure that gratefulness-by-category is all that meaningful.
Sometimes a job is just a job. I’m often told by non-medical people that they couldn’t do my job. That may be true, but let’s be honest, I probably couldn’t do their job. Fair’s fair. I chose this job and I choose to remain doing it. It wasn’t forced on me. My work benefits other people, but so do lots of occupations – just usually less conspicuously.
This is not America. A culture seems to have evolved in the USA since the 9/11 attacks where uniformed military personnel are reflexively “thanked for their service”. Soldiers of my acquaintance have told me a number of times that this has become a kind of social nicety, an obligation, rather than a meaningful act of thanks. It’s lost some of its meaning by becoming encouraged.
I’m not a hero. Heroes go above and beyond in a dramatic way. I am paid for what I do and the requirements of my job are outlined quite clearly. Turning up to the “office” in the morning isn’t exactly heroism in my mind. Friends of mine have started noticing that their takeaway coffees have been having messages written on them like “free coffee for heroes”. We’re not heroes, we’re just people doing a job. Accepting that coffee now feels awkward because of the message. I’m often given free coffee because of my uniform, so my response is to tip the barista the price of the beverage.
The job itself is usually reward enough. People may not believe this, but this is an intensely rewarding job. We all have our bad days, but most of the time the job is hugely satisfying. Adding compulsory adulation on to the top isn’t icing on the cake – it’s almost patronising in a strange way.
Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t appreciate the gestures of individual, heartfelt thanks that I receive in the course of my duties. They mean the world to me and I am intensely grateful. I am enormously proud of the work that I do. But making this a cultural requirement takes something away from it. Thank me, but do it in person for something I did for you. That’s when it means something.