I just got back from a much-needed, extremely relaxing family vacation. One of the twenty or so books my husband (police trainer, author and obsessive bibliophile Dave “JD Buck Savage” Smith) brought on our trip was titled “A Complaint Free World” by Will Bowen. I picked it up on our first full day of poolside sunbathing mostly because, although the titled intrigued me, it was thin and looked like a short, easy read. Three pages in, I couldn’t put it down or stop babbling about the author’s insight. Dave and I resolved to spend our week of fun and sun working hard to complain less. Trust me; this was not going to be easy, especially for a couple of retired cops.
Let’s be honest, cops love to bitch. Who doesn’t? It feels good to “vent” and besides, crimefighters have a lot to complain about. The public doesn’t like us, our families don’t understand us, and we often seem to get stuck working for people who forgot how tough being a real cop is. Bitch bitch bitch. The problem is, complaining doesn’t really do much good, and in the long run, it can become a bad habit that affects our relationships, our health, and our ability to stay resilient.
A good attitude and a positive outlook are just two of the many traits of resilient people, but that doesn’t mean you should go through life as a wide-eyed Pollyanna; far from it. As cops, we have to view the world as a dangerous place in order to stay safe; we need some healthy skepticism with a small dose of pessimism on the side. Dr. Al Seibert affirms that it’s our ability to choose a negative or positive thought process in any given situation that gives us an advantage, we can choose optimism or pessimism, or even combine the two the way we use both hot and cold water to make our morning shower comfortable. As an example, visualize your next traffic stop. You start out optimistic and confident in your ability to handle whatever may happen during the encounter. You approach the driver with measured pessimism, prepared for everything from a drawn gun to a lousy attitude, and then you allow optimism to put a smile on your face as you converse with the friendly, apologetic citizen behind the wheel. You appreciate the subject’s cooperation even as you stay on alert, knowing that seemingly nice people can turn on you instantly. You also scan the area outside of the vehicle, watching for traffic and other hazards, because optimists care about their own safety and survival and know they deserve a positive future. When the driver’s attitude deteriorates at the sight of that speeding ticket, you remain professional and polite, completing the stop safely. You don’t internalize the driver’s change in attitude, instead you empathize with his frustration even as you feel optimistic that the ticket may ultimately change his driving behavior and someday safe a life.
Strong self-confidence and a high self-esteem are also great predictors for resiliency, but what’s the difference between the two? Dr. Siebert describes “self-confidence” as “an action predictor…your gatekeeper for effective action. Law enforcement is an extremely action-oriented profession. Many cops are viewed as “cocky” by outsiders (or by supervisors) when in reality, they are just extremely self-confident. Working in a police department can be frustratingly paradoxical for the resilient employee. Fear of the unknown cause’s anxiety in human beings; self-confidence counteracts the anxiety and prepares us to deal appropriately with whatever comes next. In the “Street Survival” seminar, we call this “When/Then Thinking.” However, police organizations tend to hire people who are cooperative, obedient, and able to get along with others and then expect these people to also be self-reliant, change-proficient, self-motivated and willing to take risks. If not managed properly, these diverse traits can cause terrible conflict, both organizationally and individually.