It turns out the kid was developmentally disabled, the “burglary” was him and a bunch of younger kids playing war in the empty site, and his gun a broken airsoft pistol. The story hits the media and public scorn is heaped upon the “trigger-happy” cop, her failure to “shoot the gun out of his hand” or “just wing him I the arm,” and “out of control” policing in general. As you read and listen to the ensuing outrage, you have a choice of thoughts… consider how your feelings would proceed from each.
Thought option 1 – Idiots!! I cannot stand these ignorant morons any longer… ungrateful sheep… we put our lives on the line every day and get crucified for doing it… “trigger happy” my behind; eighteen years on the job and never an OIS and now she’s some kind of Dirty Harriet? Screw them… you won’t see me stick my head out for any of these fools… nope… I’m doing my time, keeping my head down, collecting my pension, and then moving somewhere I don’t have to be around morons ever again!
Thought option 2 – She’ll be fine, it was a clean shoot… Yea, it sucks now but most everyone will settle down and think once the emotions pass and see she really had no choice, and those that won’t will never like us anyway… most people understand and can put themselves in our place… I’ve really had a lot of folks come up and tell me they understand and hope our officer is okay… it’s really just the most vocal minority screaming bloody murder… maybe this would be a good time to educate folks about what we do and why…
Which thought option is likeliest to lead to unhappiness, or even rage? Which is more accurate? Adjusting our thoughts adjusts our emotions.
“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose”
- Helen Keller
“True happiness involves the pursuit of worthy goals. Without dreams, without risks, only a trivial semblance can be achieved”
- Dan Buettner
“The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.
- William Cowper
Do you still see worth in your work? Are you as committed to the ideals and purpose of law enforcement, and your role in it, as you were as an eager rookie? Losing sight of the purpose or principle of a vocation, or questioning whether it’s ultimately a fool’s errand, is demoralizing. If you have devoted much of yourself to it, in time and passion and sacrifice, only to question if it’s all worthwhile, is devastating.
If you are unhappy at work, examine if this might be the source. If it is, know your work is worthy and recommit to it. Know you do make a difference. Know most people do appreciate you and what you do, but also that most will never tell you and may be quite free with criticism at times. But really, they do appreciate it.
Happy people are purpose driven goal setters. Attainment is good, but greater satisfaction comes from the pursuit of those goals, and the happiest people refuse to rest on their laurels; instead, attainment of worthy (not greed driven, or acquisition-based) goals only leads to reaching for the next level.
“Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding”
- W Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to you own”
- Robert Heinlein
Are you in love with your job, with what it means and the duty it demands? Are you in love with your community, whether you define it as the one you serve or the one you occupy, or both? Are you in love with your neighbor, even as he stares sullenly out at you from a cell while you read him his charges?
Policing is a hard, hard job to stay happy in if you don’t love your community and country, or the flawed people who comprise it. Cops are prone to cynicism – and we have always acknowledged that cynicism can be a good thing, in measured doses – but cynicism need not be synonymous with disdain of those whose very humanness leads to its formation. This cynicism is a necessary survival skill, but staying happy and balanced in the face of it requires the kind of love the ancient Greeks referred to as Philia (brotherly love, familiarity with and service to community).