One early evening, my husband and I were driving through Phoenix when we both noticed a man running. He was in his early 20s and dressed conservatively. His running wasn't unusual. He was on the sidewalk. He wasn’t carrying anything. He was just running, right? At least that's what I thought. Just a guy out for an evening jog. "I wonder what he stole," my husband said breaking the silence. He stole something? I asked myself trying to find an experience in my mind that justified that conclusion. I couldn't find one. My husband had been a police officer for a little over a year at this point. I told him he was jaded and the guy was just out for a run. His response was something akin to, "WHATEVER!" This situation occurred again a couple of years later. The difference was I had been a dispatcher for a while and the first thing I thought was, "I wonder what he stole."
This type of negative thinking, also known as cynicism, is pervasive in police work. Many officers become cynical over time and they bring this way of thinking home with them. In her book, I Love a Cop, Ellen Kirschman explains how one dimension related to an officer's emotional control that affects friends and family is "cynicism: the belief that most human behavior is motivated by selfishness. A cynic expects nothing good from people and is therefore rarely disappointed. In an indirect way, cynical cops are trying to protect both themselves and the people they love from being hurt or becoming victims." She states:
Cynicism results from prolonged exposure to the worst in people's behavior - cops see a lot of that. No one calls a cop when he or she is having a good day. People lie to cops about everything: who they are, what they have been doing, what their name is, and so on. Even ordinarily law-abiding citizens are known to bend the truth about their driving habits. It takes only a few disappointments for an idealistic young officer to build a self-protective wall of cynicism against being made to look foolish or feel naïve. There is so much cynicism in police work that the cynical officer easily finds like-minded company to reinforce his or her position.
This cynicism can cause an officer to struggle with turning off the skepticism which protects them at work once they enter the safety and protection of their family. Kirchsman explains:
To say the least, it is frustrating to live with an officer who cannot let his or her guard down, who is remote, cynical, or overprotective. If this is happening in your relationship, you may feel alienated and lonely. You man not know what to do; you may withdraw, distance yourself, and pretend you don't care. Like the officer, you may begin using emotional control as a defense against strong feelings of rejection, alienation, isolation, and loneliness.
The good news is you don't have to keep a negative world-view and you can help your officer see some positive too. By doing so, you can improve your physical and emotional health and create a positive environment within your relationship and home. The Daily Mind states the first step to combating cynicism "is to look inside yourself and find out why you are a cynic. Why do you think it came about? When did cynicism become a personal trait of yours? Why do you continue to think in a cynical way?" The article recommends six ways to defeat cynicism and become a positive thinker.
- Recognize the problem - "As with all problems the first step is in the recognizing. It might take a while for you to recognize that you are a negative thinker." It's easy to look at your officer and feel he or she is the one bringing the negativity home. It's more realistic that a cynical home is created by negative thinking from many different members. Cynicism often feeds cynicism.
- Recognize each cynical thought - Now that you realize you can be a cynic the task is to start realizing it more often. Become attuned to your own mind and thoughts and start to become aware of every cynical though that you have. Recognize if your loved one's cynicism might be triggering you to view things the same.
- Use logic to debate the cynicism - "People who are cynics seem to think the worst about a certain person or situation not because they have evidence for doing so, but because they are in the habit of thinking cynically." This can be tricky for officers and their families because there is a lot of evidence the world can be a nasty place. But there is also a lot of good in the world. You have to step outside the darkness of law enforcement and realize light exists in equal or greater amounts.
- Make a definitive choice to be positive - "Everything good in life comes from a choice. You need to find a quiet place to sit down and tell yourself that from this day onward you are going to do everything you can to be a more positive person." This might sound flighty or fantastical to some, but just as entertaining negative thinking is a choice, so is thinking positive.
- Look at positive people for inspiration - Look around for people who see the good in those around them and inspire others to do the same. Although it may seem like everyone in the police family views things negatively, this simply isn't true. There are always those officers and their families who continue to stay upbeat and positive, especially in their home-life. Spend time with them. Learn how they do it. Friendships outside police work also can combat the negativity and provide positive role-models.
- Focus on people's qualities - Choose to look at people's qualities instead of their negative attributes. This might not work for your officer at work, but it definitely can elsewhere. Believing everyone is out to hurt you all the time can be downright exhausting. As trite as it might sound, try to have a little faith in human-kind. After all, you are a member.
Your officer and/or you might be reading this and thinking much along the same lines as Cate Sevilla in her article, Cynicism is not Realism. She states:
Positive thinking is usually something that makes me want to throw up. I usually think of positive affirmations written in lipstick on bathroom mirrors and naïve idiots with rose-colored glasses. I used to think that people who think positively are unrealistic. They're being silly and naïve.
But, after meeting many people who benefited from positive thinking, Sevilla changed her mind. She realized:
Positive thinking isn't about incense or affirmations or rose-colored glasses. It's not about being naïve or unaware. It's about thinking differently. Being fearless instead of cynical.
By changing the way you think from negative to positive, you can change the quality of your health, your relationships and your state of mind. You might not be able to change the bad things that happen out on the street that your officer has the joy of seeing day in and day out. You can change the atmosphere in your home. It doesn't have to be negative, dark and full of doubt. You can choose to fill your lives with hope and peace. Sevilla concludes, "When hard situations do come knocking, you'll already be in a better way of thinking and will handle them that much better." You might even be able to just see a jogger instead of a thief.