A good friend of mine, a retired SEAL, has taught me many things. I’m fairly certain that the majority of them haven’t been terribly profound, such as the intricacies of Californian language structure (i.e. ‘whew hew’ versus ‘woo woo’) but once in a while, he comes up with a thought that just sticks.
We met at the Grief Coach Academy where we were both studying to be Grief Coaches, each for our own reasons. Shortly after we met, he told me a story about an incident near Seattle where he resides.
I’m sure to get the details wrong (no need to correct me, Dave) but the overall message was clear. An ex-marine, employed as a police officer in a small town near Seattle, surely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and with little or no support, turned his service weapon on a group of people in a park. His platoon mates were the ones who responded to the call and ended up killing him.
This story is tragic from any angle. What made it worse at the time was that in the aftermath, the officers involved in the shooting were only given 24 hours off, expected to “get over it” and return to work the next day. This included the officer who shot his friend.
In telling me this story, my friend, whose mission is to create a better support system for military personnel, said to me “…what they need to understand is that that the bullet goes both ways.”
Now that may sound like just stating the obvious, but I think it’s something we can all understand in very simple terms. Because the concept is so easy to understand, it’s a good example of how our actions cause a reaction and that if it is true for the negative, it must also hold true for the positive.
There are careers that are inherently negative—including policing. They have higher rates of alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, divorce, and even suicide. I’m fairly certain this isn’t by happenstance.
There are coping mechanisms, of course—one being a very warped sense of humor—but once a person has been touched personally by violence, it’s not very funny anymore. There’s a crack in the armour.
There are so many incredible people doing fantastic things within policing but the public only hears and perhaps expects the negative. I read a comment in the National Post following an article about firefighters and police officers who jumped into the dirty freezing waters of Lake Ontario trying to save a teenager trapped in a vehicle. The comment was “what heroics…isn’t that their job?”
Sadly that teenager died and those human beings who risked their own lives will have to live with that memory. Maybe they have teenagers themselves.
Of course, their jobs are to fight fires and keep the peace, but that person didn’t even want to hear of something that significant. Perhaps if one of the would-be rescuers had died in the attempt, then it would have been newsworthy. It makes me wonder why we are so addicted to drama?
Regardless, that tragedy goes both ways.
I believe, in my heart of hearts, that just as that bullet also goes both ways, an act of kindness or simply acknowledging the good in others, does too – it has to.
This concept does somewhat go against the grain in policing. Officers need to be tough, and they are. Showing emotion or weakness can be a bad thing in law enforcement, if for no other reason than one becomes the target of that warped sense of humour.
Nevertheless, it is possible to inject positivity into the work day, without becoming weak or maudlin, and this positive approach can only improve the lives of every person who is touched by it.
Although not recognized by the media and therefore unknown to the public, there are amazing officers who dedicate many hours of their time to better the community in which they police. These officers have learned how to find a light in the cesspool of negativity that is inherent to police work. For every negative news article written, there are a hundred other stories that will never be told.
In my immediate circle I can tell of rock climbing programs for youth, guitar lessons, ice fishing expeditions, hockey lessons, summer camping programs for at-risk youth—all run by officers who volunteer their time and often their own money because they believe in what they are doing. There are hundreds of others in other places, other towns and cities doing the same.
I also have no doubt that the joy they bring to the lives of others returns to them ten fold which is, of course, the polar opposite of that bullet in a Seattle park.
Making an effort to inject positivity into our professional and personal lives is paramount for the well-being of others as well as our own mental health. Does it involve more work? Certainly. Is it worth it? I am reminded of that old adage, “nothing succeeds like success”. When we see the delight or quiet gratitude on the face of someone we have praised or helped, we know beyond doubt that this happiness has already been returned to us.