We can see from these examples the destructive effects of professional deformation. With a little reflection each of us can find similar examples from our own lives. There are also many other dispositions that seem effective in our jobs, but are destructive when we act them out in other situations and relationships. My experience and observations tell me that this is a very serious problem in today’s work environment, and not just in law enforcement. It is also one that is not recognized or dealt with in staff training programs. In fact it is often outright denied while we argue that the rest of the world is out of step. But these dispositions cut at the heart of what it means to be distinctively human.
Good personal relationships require that we develop certain dispositions, certain attitudes and response patterns that foster a level of intimacy. The primary relationships of marriage and family require the deepest level of intimacy of which human beings are capable. The job related dispositions we have discussed are frequently destructive to that intimacy. Real intimacy requires a relatively high level of vulnerability and openness. If I want to be close to my wife and children I must be willing to let them into my life, allow them to see who I really am. I cannot put up a facade of professionalism that keeps them at a distance.
Intimacy also requires shared respect. Without that shared respect we simply cannot become close to another person. An intimate relationship such as marriage must provide a safe place where we do not have to be afraid of being criticized, controlled, or manipulated. If I am constantly taking control of every situation in a dominating and authoritarian manner this shared respect is lost. Even more importantly, the relationship no longer provides a safe place for the other person.
Being able to show a caring concern for the other person is crucial to any relationship. If we are perceived as cold and uncaring we become unapproachable, and intimacy is impossible. We must, at least to some degree, develop a disposition to remain detached from the often significant amount of struggle and conflict that makes up our professional life, but we must find a way to be deeply caring and concerned spouses, parents, and friends.
One of the absolutely foundational prerequisites to intimacy is trust. Without that basic trust in each other vulnerability and openness are impossible. Shared respect cannot develop, and the relationship can never provide a safe haven for either person. Without trust it is not possible for me to show a caring concern for anyone. If my disposition to question everything leads to a perception that I do not trust my wife and my children, an intimate relationship is impossible
If we are to live full and rewarding lives, and especially if we are to maintain intimate and meaningful relationships with our spouses, family, and friends, we must face up to these and other problems related to our work life. If there is one thing that most social scientists agree on, it is that the only person we can change is ourselves. In the process of changing ourselves we may well change the profession and the society, but the process must start with each of us as individuals. We will then bring those changes to our profession, and maybe ultimately to our society as a whole. But the first step is within us as individuals. We need to work hard to deactivate the destructive dispositions when we leave the job. We must allow ourselves to become vulnerable, and to show respect and caring concern for our spouses, families, and friends. And, most importantly, we have to find a way to trust our loved ones appropriately.
I sincerely believe that it is possible for us to find different ways to live most any legitimate occupation, and to prevent the traits and dispositions necessary to the occupation from spilling over into our personal lives in ways that are deformative and destructive. The effects of professional deformation must be addressed seriously in our search for the fullness of life. If we cannot find a balanced way to live our profession we should seriously consider the possibility that we are being called to changing to a more congenial occupation.
The first step in a new direction is to recognize and accept responsibility for the problem. The problem is not inherent in any profession, and it is not caused totally by society (which includes us) or the system (which also includes us). Neither the society, nor the system will find the solution apart from us. In the end we are the only ones with either the motivation or the insight necessary to find a better way. “In the frequently quoted words of Pogo, Walt Kelly’s cartoon possum, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’”
- Reflect on the level of intimacy and trust in your relationships with family and friends. Is there an appropriate level of vulnerability and openness in those relationships, or is there a barrier or wall that keeps people at a distance?
- How do you show caring and concern in difficult or painful situations?
- Are your personal relationships safe places for mutual sharing and support? Why? Why not?
- What in you needs to change to raise the level of intimacy and trust in your relationships?