The Importance of Perspective, Part III

Fatalism poses a significant risk to law enforcement officers whose perspective is focused primarily on the worst society has to offer. The trick to staying emotionally healthy – to maintaining a healthy perspective – is learning how to sift the facts...

Authors’ note:  This is the third and final article in our 3-part series on perspective.  If you haven’t already, please read Parts I & II, linked below.

Consider the following statement:  As 2012 draws to a close, it will surely go down as one of the most rancorous and troubled years in American history.  Consider just some of what we’ve gone, and are still going, through:  a bitter election year that further widened partisan divides, even within the two major political parties themselves; a looming fiscal cliff that could plunge the country into a major recession on top of the one it is still struggling out of; the likelihood that sweeping changes to how we define will be ushered in through the Supreme Court; the rise of Honey Boo-Boo as defining cultural icon.

So, do you agree with that?  Will 2012 go down as “one of the most rancorous and troubled years in American history?”

Many of you might.  Listen to the chatter – in person and in prints many forms – and it’s obvious a lot of folks would agree with it.

Personally, I do not.  In many ways 2012 will be a big year, and I do believe what we’re seeing electorally, fiscally, legally, and culturally mark tectonic shifts in the society, but I also believe those shifts are long-term and incremental and, to some extent, inevitable given our history.  Our politics have always been ruthless (in fact, Obama vs. Romney was a white glove garden party compared to some), our economy more tenuous than we like to admit, and our culture and social mores shifting.  The fiscal cliff, it turns out, is probably more like a long, steep, uncomfortably bumpy downward slope that, even if we drop over the edge of it, will be a painful ride down but one we can still throw the brakes on.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

That whole Honey Boo-Boo thing, though?  Okay… scary.

Without perspective it’s easy to distort the past, misunderstand the present, and fear the future.  That is where fatalism – not necessarily the philosophical doctrine of the same name but rather the attitude of hopelessness and powerlessness over life’s forces and humanity’s depravity - comes from.  As we pointed out in Parts I & II of this series, fatalistic beliefs can easily infect cops and undermine their mission and mental health; how do men and women, wired and primed to fight against human’s wickedness toward each other, survive when their perspective is one that focuses almost exclusively on the darkness of man?  How do they survive the realization that there is really no end to the battle, and the perception that it’s just getting worse despite all their efforts?  If they are unable to manage their perspective it will become unhealthy and unrealistic.

So how can you manage your perspective?  In a world of endless messages about the innumerable ways people mistreat each other, and the decline of morality and social foundations, how can a healthy perspective be found and maintained?  We suggest the following practices:

Develop an Historical Perspective

Maybe you have a natural interest in, or have engaged in the study of, history.  Or maybe it was something you daydreamed through in high school and haven’t given a moment’s thought to since.  You should, though.   Maintaining a sound historical perspective is key to warding off much of the fatalism that comes from one of the most common byproducts of a career in law enforcement – cynicism and the conviction that crime “is out of control” or “has never been as bad as it is now.”  Ask a lot of cops and they’ll swear it has never been more dangerous to do the job, or the current generation of kids and young adults are the most disrespectful and deviant ever, or that the morals of society have crumbled beyond recognition.  No wonder so many officers begin to despair of ever doing any good, of having chosen such a “futile” profession in the first place, or even for the very fate of society and the nation.  They become fatalistic.

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