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Lessons of Aloha

From the Hawaii Revised Statutes:

§ 5-7.5 "Aloha Spirit". (a) "Aloha Spirit" is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, "Aloha", the following unuhi laula loa may be used:
           "Akahai", meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
           "Lokahi", meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
           "?Olu?olu" meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
           "Ha?aha?a", meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
           "Ahonui", meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
    These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawai?i. ''Aloha'' is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ''Aloha'' means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. "Aloha" is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ''Aloha'' means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
    (b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the "Aloha Spirit". [L 1986, c 202, § 1]

So there you have it… “Aloha” is more than just a greeting in Hawaii, or something they say a lot on Hawaii 50 or hokey sitcoms when they reach their obligatory “going to Hawaii episode,” it’s the LAW! 

Last month’s article (Type A or Type B:  Which one are you?) took a look at the iconic Type A and Type B personalities, comparing and contrasting them, considered whether the classic Type A personality predominates within the law enforcement profession, and asked readers to ponder which type they might be.  As we’ve spoken and corresponded with many cops over the past few years, it seems a good number of them believe it takes a Type A to have any success in law enforcement.  Now, we don’t believe that and can point to many successful Type B colleagues who make their more laid-back personas work just fine, but we agree there seems to be a large proportion – and maybe a solid majority – who fit the Type A profile.  Maybe you do, or perhaps you are a legit Type B but point to many or most of your colleagues and can easily rattle off their Type A ways.

Both Type A and Type B persons (and as a reminder, these two archetypes are far from a complete or scientific typing of the variety of personalities found in individuals; they do, as well understood and accepted by laypersons, provide a rough delineation among two commonly occurring temperaments) can have positive and negative attributes deriving from their dispositions.  For our purposes here, we want to take a look at the Type A individual, as so many in law enforcement seem to fit this profile.

Type A’s are ambitious and focused, often with a businesslike demeanor and demanding achievement in themselves and those around them.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but, taken to the extreme, “ambitious and focused” can become “ruthless and single-minded,” “businesslike” morphs into “cold and impersonal,” and “demanding achievement” turns into “domineering.”  Not always the best traits for healthy of interpersonal relationships or solid professional associations.  Even more concerning, as we wrote about in the first article of this series:

…Friedman (one of the cofounders of the Type A/Type B typology) reports three common and significant symptoms of maladaptive behavior associated with this personality type.  These are: free-floating, easily triggered hostility, impatience causing frequent irritation, and an overdeveloped competitive drive resulting in stress and an “achievement-driven” mentality; they will even invent competition with others where none existed.  When these symptoms appear they can have a wide-ranging negative impact on both physical and emotional health, interpersonal relationships, job performance, and even unrelated people within the Type A’s sphere of influence.

Okay, now look around at some of the cops you work with or know (or maybe yourself?) and compare them to these maladaptive behaviors Friedman described.  Free-floating, easily triggered hostility?  Check!  Impatience causing frequent irritation?  Yep. Overdeveloped competitive drive… even inventing competition with others where none existed?  Do you know that guy?  I know more than a few with all these behaviors.  And of the ones you know, how are they doing physically and emotionally, at home and on the job?  Any problems you are aware of? 

The anger, frustration, and stresses of law enforcement

The truth is, a career in law enforcement exposes its practitioners to a variety of emotions and stress that, if not properly managed, can set them onto maladaptive or even self-destructive paths.  We feel disgust and anger at the predators among us, those who prey on the law-abiding and, even worse, the weak.  You grow frustrated with not only the many frequent flyers we see over and over, but also the politicians, bureaucrats, and bona fide bozos with whom you must deal but can never lock up because stupidity in its purest form still isn’t legal.  And we stress over the many ways things can go horribly wrong in an instant, jeopardizing your job, your future, or even your life. 

And on top of all this is an often unappreciative public, woefully ignorant of why and how you do your jobs but always willing two throw their two cents in whether you care to hear it or not.  Is it any wonder cops become cynical, or that so many isolate from the very public they are sworn to protect?

Recently, on this and other police websites, and in the other various media, I’ve followed stories and their related comment threads about LE-related issues pertaining to Occupy Wall Street, notable crimes, public employee unions and pensions, Supreme Court decisions, and other topics.  The stories themselves are one thing; the comments from the public quite another, and it becomes clear there are some people out there who don’t like us very much!  Or that there are so many, who know so little, so willing to expound from a position of utter ignorance.  Who woulda known?

That public antipathy toward law enforcement we so often see, whether it happens to be real or perceived, hurts and puzzles crimefighters is to be expected.  A lot of cops will profess to not be bothered by it, or that they've become so used to it as to no longer care, but I wonder if they are trying to convince others or themselves.  When you sincerely do your best, act in good faith, diligently respect and defend the rights of the public, and believe deeply in your mission - and you know the overwhelming majority of your brother and sister law enforcers do too - it's expected you would be hurt, puzzled, frustrated, or angry over the unfair disrespect or dismissal toward the profession by so many. 

What is more disheartening, when you think about it, is how we in law enforcement become beaten down psychologically over time by the attitudes of an unappreciative, and sometimes hostile, public.  Worse yet, is how we ALLOW ourselves to be beaten down, to lose sight of our mission, to have our perspective on humanity changed so cynically, and to develop or nurture that “free-floating, easily triggered hostility, (and) impatience causing frequent irritation” seen in many with the Type A personality so common in law enforcement. 

The sad truth is, if you are finding yourself beaten down and constantly angry, or your cynicism is turning you against your own species, both your emotional and physical health are at risk.  You need to regain perspective.

Adapting “The Aloha Spirit” to police work? 

Of course, as tourists in Hawaii, we wondered if “The Aloha Spirit” we read and kept hearing the locals we encountered talk about was real or an affectation for our benefit.  Of course, Hawaii has problems - like anywhere else - but people kept talking about “The Aloha Spirit” and were unfailingly friendly and accommodating to tourists and other locals alike.  Maybe there is something to this “The Aloha Spirit” after all.

What if we adapted that small part from the Hawai’i Revised Statutes that makes “the Aloha Spirit” part of their law and made it a part of our personal covenant with the public we serve?  We’re not saying you should become complacent, or sacrifice safety.  And we are not saying that the Type A’s among us must reject who they are.  Not at all on either count!  What we are saying is that keeping proper perspective is critical, and the Hawaiian model is a simple one to adopt.  And that tempering and managing those potentially troublesome traits of the Type A personality, not eliminating the type altogether, will go far toward maintaining a healthy perspective (and we Type B’s already do this all the time to function in law enforcement, so it’s only fair you A’s do, too!).

That law enforcement officers face many dangers is well known, but that so many of them are threats to the soul and psyche is overshadowed by the more obvious physical threats.  LEOs learn to think tactically, with an overriding emphasis on officer safety, to counter physical threats.  The same should be true for the less obvious, but equally dangerous, emotional threats.  In the next and concluding article in this series, we will look at how the principles of “the Aloha Spirit” can be directly applied in some very effective law enforcement practices.

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About The Authors:

Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.

Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been with a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department’s Crisis Intervention & Domestic Violence teams. Mike is an adjunct instructor at Northwestern College.

Mike & Althea have been married since 1994 and have been featured columnists for Officer.Com since 2007. Their articles are extremely popular and they now provide the same training and information in person throughout the United States. This dynamic team was recently featured at the at the 2010 & 2011 ILEETA Conference & Exposition.

Out of their success has come the formation of More Than A Cop where the focus is providing consultation and trainings on Survival Skills Beyond The Street.