Well, we sure live in stressful times: the war on cops, international terrorism, illegal immigration, active shooters, fiscal constraints, cameras everywhere, an extremely hostile press. And all the while the usual suspects are still around: organizational stress, PTSD, shift work, low pay, and high divorce rates. I don't think I have ever seen a tougher time to be a crime fighter.
To balance the stressors we have implemented such programs as peer counseling, support services available by phone, stress management training, and myriad other strategies to help officers "cope" with a seemingly deteriorating universe. The problem is many officers either don't know about or choose not to take advantage of these opportunities. It is the old conundrum we have faced as trainers for years: "Training actually only occurs when there is learning."
It is tough to have effective training when the troops are not receptive to the message. You cannot simply order learning; you have to sell it. Many of the politically correct courses mandated today have been found to be completely ineffective precisely because they don't have any purchase in the minds of students, ergo…no learning.
Since you are the recipient of all this training and counseling I want to take an opportunity to sell you on the idea of being open to learning about maintaining a sense of mission in your life and a balance in the way you live it. Outstanding books like Dr. Gilmartin's Emotional Survival, and Dr. Kirschman's I Love a Cop (recently updated), are full of outstanding advice for warriors and their loved ones. But a book unread is a lesson unlearned. Let me say this another way. The very definition of "Training" is "the long term modification of behavior. If behavior is NOT changed no training has occurred." DO NOT be untrainable; be open to grow and learn.
If I came to you with a new tactic that would help you win armed confrontations you would be all ears, eyes, and anticipation. Be the same way when you are given an opportunity to learn how to gain balance, happiness, stability, and fulfillment in your life. Decide to learn something new every day. Just ask yourself where your weaknesses, your sorrows, and your doubts live in your heart and decide/choose to fix/heal them.
Some of you believe weakness is never to be exposed, you should keep shields up all the time, warriors don't cry, blah, blah, blah…That's bull! Warriors have traditionally been the ones who would weep openly for their fallen and nurture their creative side seeking equilibrium in their lives. Bushido warriors doing watercolors, Spartans composing poetry, and on and on…As you study the various cultures throughout history you find this common theme of "balance."
The activities Gilmartin calls "Usta's" are often a key symptom in officers losing this balance in their lives, and starting a spiral of unhappiness and pain in their lives. You have stopped doing the things you did as hobbies before you became a crime fighter? No problem, find more. Take up activities that bring you joy, relaxation, fulfillment, meditation, and health. If your hobby is working overtime, get another damn hobby.
Is there something in your heart that aches? Trauma, organizational actions, divorce, and tragic loss are just a few of the things that linger in our lives, causing continued stress and often lowering the very quality of our day-to-day living. Choose to change, choose to be happy, and get help, dammit. Suffering is not a warrior quality, while it can certainly be a result of the hardships of our profession, so do what warriors throughout history have done. Seek to heal.
Sing your "song of lamentation" to a counselor, a peer, a minister, a friend, an 800 number. Take action, become resilient, then help others seek help and give help. Oddly, we know when to call for backup on the street but often fail to call for it in our homes.
Finally, if you are rocking the good life, carefree crime fighting, and all is well, then great, stay ahead of the stress. Keep doing the things that bring you joy and satisfaction. Keep your mind open to learning every day and growing not only professionally but personally as well.
"And how," you may ask, "do I know such things?" Because I have been to the bottom and sat with Dr. Gilmartin before there was a book called "Emotional Survival," and I am certainly an expert in what not to do. So get the damned book and at least help others.
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.