Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I saw it sitting there with the rest of the mail the second I walked into the kitchen. A small rectangular package. And, as I got closer, I could clearly see it was addressed to me. Yes! It had come, a little mini-Christmas from Santa disquised as our mailman. I grabbed the package and headed to the living room. My heart pounded and my head raced with all the possibilities the little parcel could unlock. Indeed, as I tore it open, I smiled thinking that all doors would be open to me now, just as I had imagined when I saw the ad for the little gem I held in my hands…my new lock-picking set.

How many times had my heroes on TV quickly and efficiently defeated the villain's door or the padlocked room holding the innocents that desperately needed saving? This was a skill I knew would change my future, and I imagined myself doing all kinds of daring deeds. I saw heroic acts galore in my mind's eye as I sat on the couch clutching my marvelous new toy. I immediately began to practice the art of lock picking while watching my favorite show.

My wife, the Sarge, who told me it was bedtime, interrupted my reverie. I was not allowed to take my new toy to bed. Dang it. So I put my treasure away and quietly walked into the bedroom while my imagination still raged.

Do not get the Sarge wrong, she has plenty of toys too and loves to play with them. Just watch her with our two terriers teaching them some new trick, or see her drive her ATV across the high plains of Wyoming like she's in an extension of the Baja 500.
Play is one of the essential elements of a healthy life and I want you to take a minute to reflect on how much quality "playtime" you are really enjoying.

Until you actually play with a new acquisition, you don't get any benefit from it. For instance, just possessing a toy like a new Shimano rod and reel is not the same as playing with it in your local trout lake. Playing is a basic human drive that we all have, and that we tend to dismiss as we grow older. But it is universal to all of us and anything that unlocks that activity in us is a quality toy—be it crayons, a new bike, a drone, or a really cool lock pick set your wife thinks is a waste of money.

Play is the antidote for the day-to-day stress we all face, and experts such as Kevin Gilmartin, Ph.D., remind us that too often we get so involved in our profession we neglect the "play" we need. He calls them "usta's" because so often he will counsel law enforcement professionals who talk about how happy they were when they "usta" play softball, or "usta" fish, or "usta" travel. Too often, they feel that their only real "hobby" is working overtime.

Some of you may wonder exactly what counts as play. Psychologists say it includes a very broad range of activities that all have three things in common:

1) It is absolutely voluntary, not something you have to do

2) It is flexible and can be changed or manipulated (Can't go to the lake today? Put a practice plug on your line and cast into a bucket.)

3) It is fun

Play not only expands our creativity, it refreshes our spirit. At a time when law enforcement is concerned with PTSD, vicarious traumatization, and suicide prevention, perhaps it is time to look to age-old remedies for stress. Maybe we need to stop stigmatizing adult play and give ourselves a daily recess on the playground.

One of the complaints from child psychologists today is that we do not let kids play enough anymore…not even kids. What about Mom, Dad, Aunt Susie, or Uncle Bob? Ask any zoologist about animal behavior and they will regale you with stories of how universal play behavior is; and watch them blink in comprehension when you ask them if they ever get to play anymore.

OK, let us gather our toys and start playing…watch me pick this padlock.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.