Posts Tagged ‘snowflake’

Snowflakes

During my first year of AmeriCorps, when I was serving with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), I was deployed in response to the Good Friday Tornadoes that swept across St Louis, MO. It was one of the first cities that was hit by tornadoes the Easter weekend of 2011, as a storm system rolled across the southern States, dropping over 300 tornadoes across Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

A month later, we raced across the state of Missouri to respond alongside members of several other AmeriCorps programs to the devastation of Joplin, where an EF-5 tornado ripped a mile wide path through the heart of the city.

It was there, as I served in the Volunteer Reception Center, putting volunteer data and emergency contacts into a database, that I first heard the term “snowflakes” to describe certain members of my own team and other AmeriCorps teams. It was a term that was often used as a negative attribute by members of more “elite” AmeriCorps programs.

It wasn’t until two years later, when I joined the St Louis AmeriCorps Emergency Response Team that I fully understood what they were talking about.

The theory was explained to me like this: Every team (the person who shared this theory was speaking specifically abut NCCC and FEMA Corps teams, but also referenced our larger team of the Emergency Response Team) there are a handful of natural leaders who thrive in any situation they are in, about twice as many followers who have the potential to rise to be leaders in times of need, and then a couple of “snowflakes,” individuals who melt away when close to the fire.

The thought process was that natural leaders and followers with potential can be relied upon in times of need, but the “snowflakes” of the group or team need to be in non-stressful positions in times of crisis (say, for example, during a response to a EF-5 tornado ripping through a community or to a hurricane slamming into a major metropolitan community).

During my time in AmeriCorps, we spoke at length about this concept and idea.

I never liked the term. We threw it around like it was just another adjective. We used it liberally when we looked out and felt that other programs were beneath us.

I avoided it because it was had been used to describe my own teammates. I heard it used to describe the AmeriCorps program that built me into the leader. That allowed me to grow as an individual. That gave me strength to face and conquer my fears.

I’m hearing it again, all these years later, to describe, once again, my friends and teammates. It is being used to describe men and women who are willing to stand and fight for what they believe in. It is being used the same way we used it in AmeriCorps, to make people feel better than those who are different from them.

Let me tell you a story about one of my teammates that was once called a “snowflake.” This was a kid that joined AmeriCorps right out of High School. They were shy. Didn’t have the best social skills. They didn’t pour out confidence in the way they held themselves, but their work ethic was stronger than steel.

When we got deployed in response to the Good Friday tornadoes in St Louis, they held back because they were not comfortable being out front. They preferred a supporting role. After we arrived in Joplin, they froze. For just a second, they were overwhelmed. And because of this, members of more “elite” programs, AmeriCorps members that we all looked up to, considered them a “snowflake.”

I, too, froze. I think every single one of us were overwhelmed by the chaos and utter destruction that surrounded us. A “snowflake” is supposed to melt when faced with the trials of fire. Not a single one of us did.

Some of us led teams out in the field. Some of us answered phones. Some of us organized operations behind the scenes. Some of us were there to support survivors physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Some of us didn’t step out into the debris field until almost a week after the tornado ripped its way across the town. But nobody that responded, neither AmeriCorps members or volunteer, melted away.

In FEMA Corps, I had teammates who found their limits. Who discovered their breaking point. I had members of my team that left for various reasons. Fellow Team Leaders who walked away from the experience. But none of them ever melted.

The thing I learned while serving my final two years with AmeriCorps, while serving with one of those “elite” programs, was that everyone wants to make themselves feel better about their faults. We like to boost ourselves up, by looking down on others.

Whether it be on matters of experience or political opinion, we look down on those ‘beneath’ ourselves with disgust. We call them names and insult them because it makes us feel, in some sick way, superior to them. We think that makes us more powerful than them.

But my teammate that first year heard some of the members calling them a “snowflake.” And it made them fight harder. It made them harder than ice. It allowed them to take that flame that threatened to consume them and consume it. To let it be the fuel to prove to the world, but more importantly to their self, that whatever chains that were holding them back could be broken.

I see it happening again. People rising for what they believe in. A resistance to the flood of insults and acts that threaten to consume them.

Here’s the thing: One of those people who was called a “snowflake” in the days following Joplin was me. I was looked down upon because I made the decision to work in a support role in the Volunteer Reception Center, rather than lead a team out in the field. I never called out the person, though sometimes I wish I had, because I knew that I could help more from where I was at than be another set of boots in the debris field.

Ever see what a bunch of snowflakes can do? Just look at the snowstorms that have stopped communities and cities in their tracks.

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