Authors’ note: This article is the conclusion of a two part series. If you have not already, please read “Tapping into the Power of ‘Yes, and…’” (linked below)
…Now will saying "yes" get you in trouble at times? Will saying "yes" lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. - Stephen Colbert, from his 2006 Knox College commencement address
I suppose we should start off with a qualifier about what we mean in encouraging you to say “YES” more often: Obviously, if the choice or challenge before you is whether to do something that will likely get you or someone else killed or seriously hurt, fired, incarcerated, divorced or dumped, sued, or in any way held up to uncomfortable scrutiny on your local evening news or before Internal Affairs, “NO” is probably the correct answer… probably. Since you’ve already said “yes” to clicking on this article, we’ll just assume you’re smart enough to discern those things.
The problem for most of us is that we tend to shy away from saying “yes” to too many things that might merely make us uncomfortable, or pose little or no real risk – and what risk is posed is to our pride or ego, at worse. We shy away from that which might be fun or enriching or new because we fear… what? Embarrassment or failure? That we might not like it, or think “what if it’s disappointing?” Or maybe we say “no” because saying “yes” would mean upsetting our calm, safe, predictable lives.
Maybe we say “no” because we really do believe we’re “just too old for that kind of stuff anymore” while reminiscing about the days of our youth when we’d have been all over it. You remember those days, right, where there was always time to take up one more sport, learn one more skill, join one more activity, and pick up one more instrument? You have happy memories, I’m sure, of impromptu road trips and improvised nights out sprung from the imagination on one particularly bored or particularly adventurous friend that then took on a life of its own because you were able to say, “Yes! And then we’ll…”
Maybe you remember when you were a young officer, ready to jump into any assignment or opportunity that came along because it sounded fun, or was new and different, or even a little scary and you still looked forward to that adrenaline-piston sensation in your chest. Maybe you remember when you were dating or newly-married - before the kids came along and more and more responsibilities settled in on you – and it didn’t take too much persuading to sign up for a new adventure, or to stay out late to catch a new band playing a midnight set in some off-the-beaten-path dive.
It’s true that, after a few years on the job, those adrenaline jolts do become a little less welcome as they remind us more and more of the realness of our mortality. It’s true that, as we get older, even generous amounts of cheap beer can’t quite make up for overhyped, under-talented musicians overcompensating with volume (“this amplifier, it goes to 11…”) or the morning tinnitus in roll call (besides, one of you has to stay home with the kids, babysitters are outrageous!). But are you giving up too much? Are you saying “no” to things you might really want to do – or that your partner might really want to do – and that are reasonably doable because you’re using the “too old for this” rationale as a convenient excuse for something else? When you say you’re “too old for this” are you really using a euphemism for “too scared/too lazy/too cheap/too boring for this” instead?
Are you getting “old” way too young?
…Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. - Stephen Colbert
Ahhh… and then I read this, and I began to see cynicism in a whole new light! I still stick to what we often say that a certain amount of cynicism among cops is both understandable and necessary. But this perspective by Colbert does present yet another reason to keep it in check; cynicism applied with a broad brush does have a way of presenting an understanding of people and the “way things are” that may misperceive reality, while the holder of the misperception is excused of fact checking by virtue of faux wisdom. Cynics too easily smirk and disregard possibilities that could alter their perception because, well… they just know better!
And what is that borne of among cops? Experience that those people with whom we deal will lie to us, will disappoint us, will violate our trust until we expect the worst and set distrust as our default.
The problem lies in the tendency many of us harbor to shut out non-cops and non-police activities because we’ve generalized that on-duty cynicism to all aspects of our life. We get cynical and we say “no.”
But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. "Yes" is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes."
And that’s The Word. - Stephen Colbert
So open your mind to being - or staying - young. Open your mind to the new and different. Open your mind to letting go of just a little cynicism and see where it takes you.
Open your mind to saying, “Yes, and…” and see if it doesn’t broaden your experience.
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.