Well yes, they are. We all are. Human beings have a remarkable capacity for self-delusion – including me and, I would guess, most of you – when it comes to denying or hiding the uncomfortable or embarrassing aspects of our lives from ourselves. Is it any wonder, then, that people lie when they know poor judgment got the better of them and now someone with a badge and vested with the power of arrest is asking a bunch of awkward questions? Unfortunately, the “people are liars” explanation becomes the hammer solution – simple and easy to fall back on, but is it really the best perspective?
So here is the recalibration: The perspective “People are liars” (which is a rather harsh and, frankly, judgmental indictment of all for a universal urge of people under stress) can be recalibrated to “Human beings have a remarkable capacity for self-delusion… Is it any wonder, then, that people lie (try to delude others) when they know poor judgment got the better of them (and they are now being accountable for it).” It’s all about empathy, the capacity to identify and understand someone else’s feelings, fears, or difficulties, and framing your own emotional reaction accordingly. Having empathy does not mean you don’t hold people accountable… you must and you do, that’s your job. It does mean you recognize why they do what they do and never lose sight of your own capacity to fall short. It means you allow yourself a different and more adaptable perspective that allows for both creative policing and a less fatalistic point-of-view.
For cops, empathy is something you should extend others not only for their sake, but for you own.
Recalibrating your perspective – Part II
“When you're in the muck you can only see muck. If you somehow manage to float above it, you still see the muck but you see it from a different perspective. And you see other things too. That's the consolation of philosophy.” - David Cronenberg
Get above the muck. Whatever challenges and crimes you find yourself mired in as a cop – be it the violence and hopelessness of an inner city ghetto, mind numbingly horrific crimes against children, repetitive and seemingly endless domestic disputes, the penchant of certain in our society to steal anything they can get their hands on – draw back form it for a more panoramic view. Find what does work in the ghetto, and draw inspiration from the many – albeit, often hidden – success stories and how they benefit the community. Take note of the rise of outrage against those who would harm the most vulnerable and innocent in the community, and how individuals and organizations are stepping up to combat the problem. Realize there are families that do get better, and homes where the calls do stop because they’ve gotten the help they need – or maybe someone finally had enough and left after you told them a dozen times to get out while they could – and remember you may not help everyone but you do help some. And understand that chasing those who would cheat and steal from the honest, if perhaps sometimes naïve, citizens are your cross to bear, and one you gladly took up. Celebrate every one you capture, knowing they are societies outliers, and those are the true “cops-and-robbers” cases most people truly admire and cheer us for.
Practice proactive, rather than reactive, policing. Get out of your car and into the restaurants and coffee shops, bars and gas stations, grocery stores and “Mom-and-Pops,” chat up the staff at your hotels and apartment complexes. Open up to the public you serve. Pass out business cards like it’s going out of style and, as far as is appropriate, try to become “Jim” or “Sarah” instead of “Officer Smith” or “Detective Jones” to those people you see regularly. Chances are they’ll love it, and people are far more likely to open up and cooperate with – or encourage others to open up and cooperate with – a police officer with whom they sense not just a working connection to, but a friendship. The professional dividends are great, and the personal dividends you’ll receive better yet.
Healthy cynicism is critical to successful and safe policing but, like the immoderate drinker who easily becomes a drunk, immoderate cynicism can easily make an unfettered cynic. The police officers challenge, then, is to find balance; you must find the balance between healthy cynicism and that which goes too far.
“It takes a clever man to turn cynic and a wise man to be clever enough not to.” - Fannie Hurst