I’m not sure exactly where I once read this line, or if maybe it was a wry comment from a coworker (and even then I have no idea if it was original or quoted from another) that lodged in my brain. I do know I laughed in recognition – both in myself and at seeing friends and coworkers reflected in its simple truth. The particular line is (and may whoever originated it forgive me if I paraphrase):
“It is the policeman’s prerogative to bitch!”
And do we ever!
Sure, we tend to give it other names and perhaps we should here, too; so, for the sake of polite company (in case any “polite company” happen to wander onto a police website by accident, or something) let’s call it VENTING.
And do we ever vent!
To be fair, really, there’s no small venting in police work; we turn it into an art form! We vent about the criminals we chase, the foolish/naïve/ungrateful citizenry we do our best to protect, and the bosses we work under (and, if you’re a boss, about the whiny, lazy, borderline insubordinate rabble-rousers below you). Unions vent about management and management the unions (and woe to the former union president now climbing the ranks of management!). We vent about politicians and prosecutors, defense counsel and judges. We vent about appellate courts and the decisions they render and how it makes the job just a bit tougher… unless we agree and then we vent about the blind fools who don’t agree!
But if you want to hear some extra special, exquisitely inspired venting, just bring up the media! Wow!!… that’s some venting (for the record, as a part-time dabbler on that dark side, you – okay, we – ain’t always a walk-in-the-park even as the intended media audience, either).
Venting isn’t confined to the ranks of law enforcement, of course, and people from all walks of life are quite good at voicing displeasure with the status quo. I grew up in a family of, and around, educators – further denizens of public bureaucracy – and was raised up in the fine art of beefing. Check out the “comments’ section attached to most newspaper articles and observe how readily folks take advantage of the chance to gripe. Nonetheless, it often seems we in law enforcement are particularly prolific.
The thing is, venting feels good… at least, in the moment. I used to believe it cathartic. Healthy. Even productive. It made sense that blowing off steam allowed us to come together, put words to shared frustrations and feel solidarity with, and empathy for, comrades in arms (and perceived injustice). Not so much anymore.
Of course, there is a time for venting and, of course, getting frustration and pressure off your chest and put to voice does have its own value; sometimes venting is a good way to emotionally purge and then move on. It becomes a problem when there is never anything else but venting and it is never simply a precursor to problem-solving. More and more, I see venting for its own sake as a problem and not simply a symptom. Too many who vent are happy enough to settle into their discontent and never move beyond venting. Then I see it not as a healthy release but as a toxic habit. And I see it as potentially emotionally – and maybe even physically – dangerous if not managed correctly.
Mike is right, it feels good in the moment, but what are the long term effects on agency morale, your mood, and in your relationships? Is it truly constructive or destructive?
I know those of you who vent and complain are going to argue with me on this, but venting and complaining is destructive. It feeds into the problem rather than finding a solution or reframing our negative thoughts into the positive reactions that result in positive emotions. Venting and complaining are often forms of unfiltered “I can say whatever I want with no consequences” type of communication. And often the person vented on is being ambushed with no concern for how they are feeling that day or what they are doing. Moreover, the person venting is often self-absorbed in their emotional response and is oblivious to how their words affect others.