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...

But those perceptions are, in the interest of avoiding a more impolitic and vulgar adjective, all just so much hooey.

Actually having historical perspective reveals a few things.  As we discussed in Part II of this series, crimes rates are actually down significantly, the job has always been dangerous (and often more dangerous in terms of violent assaults on officers), kids are kids and young adults are young adults and somehow each generation manages to survive and thrive despite the gloom and doom predictions of their elders (and doesn’t each generation develop amnesia about their own shortcomings by the time their own kids reach adolescence?), and morals have been allegedly crumbling for millennia yet those who choose morality are, at the end of the day, left alone to practice it.

Historical perspective gives us a baseline against which we can reality test our assumptions.

Expand your frame-of-reference

Confirmation bias is the tendency we have to seek and embrace information that supports what we already believe to be true, and to ignore, reject, or devalue information that contradicts or undermines it.  Confirmation bias is so strong in some people that no amount of evidence telling them their conviction is absolutely, indisputably wrong will shake their faith in it.  Most people, however, if the evidence is presented to them one-on-one, by someone they trust and in a respectful and challenging – but gentle – manner, will begin to at least consider other points-of-view.

Cops are prone to confirmation bias, too, and when their beliefs are the fatalistic, all-or-nothing-type, will seek information that supports that fatalistic view.  But many cops have another tendency, and that is to stick primarily with other cops, and generally those whose thinking is most closely aligned with their own.  Confirmation bias takes on critical mass, fatalism becomes entrenched and supported by the group, and negativity becomes endemic.

By “expanding your frame of reference” we mean two things:  Expanding your experience base to include activities where you can see normal people engaging in positive, community building activities and broadening the base of people with whom you have regular and close contact, not just within the profession but outside it.  Our inclination is to seek relationships with those who resemble us in background, interests, and thought, and this becomes more entrenched as we age.  It only makes sense to want to be around those with whom we’re most comfortable and to distance ourselves from those whose worldview may be different (and therefore challenging).  But this inclination is not really healthy; it feeds and leaves unchallenged our biases.

To expand your frame of reference reconnect with old friends and past acquaintances, take up new hobbies or renew old ones, volunteer at a church or community organization, coach youth sports, or find any outlet that engages you beyond your roles as “cop.”

Seek out different points-of-view

The ultimate goal of expanding your frame of reference is to develop relationships.  Push yourself to build relationships with people who may have a different worldview from you own and become curious about what it is and how they got there.  Of course, you need not abandon your own beliefs or principles, but be open to considering and understanding theirs.

This actually requires quite a lot of humility.  It means acknowledging not just that there may be a different – yet equally valid - perspective than your own, but that yours might even be (gasp!) wrong.  It means being willing to not be the expert in the room and asking questions of others rather than being the one everyone else turns to.  And it means, when you are sure you are right, defending your position in a thoughtful and respectful manner.  Regardless of whether you are right, wrong, or somewhere in between, considering the point-of-view of others and weighing it against your own hones your critical thinking skills and even promotes continued brain development.

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