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Mar 152013
 

Johnny Cash starts his song “The Man In Black” with these lyrics:

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.*

The Man In Black

The Man In Black

In recent months I have started wearing black a lot.  I have purchased several pair of black pants, several black shirts, and a black coat.  I even bought a black fedora hat.  A number of people have started calling me “the man in black”.  Some have even commented when I show up wearing other colors.  All of the comments led me to “wonder why I always dress in black”.

In his song, Johnny Cash says he wears black essentially to remember all of the suffering people in the world, but that really doesn’t connect with me.  At first glance my reasons are not nearly so profound.

The first answer to the question is simply “because I want to” and “because I like it”.  I didn’t start wearing black for any conscious reason.  I just found myself wearing my black clothes more and more often.  Then I bought more black clothes and then asked for some more for Christmas.  Especially when I dress for church, church meetings, teaching, etc., I just always wear black.  Again, I had no conscious reason really.  I just like to wear black.

The first thing that comes to mind when I reflect on it is the fact that I was a Trooper and Sergeant with the Virginia State Police for a number of years.  When I would get ready for work I always knew what I was going to wear.  The uniforms hung together in my closet and that was just what I wore.  There were no decisions to make.  I liked that.  I have always hated standing in front of a closet trying to figure out what to wear.  At least when I went to work, no decisions were necessary.  At the same time I like looking neat and clean so I won’t just put on anything that happens to be around.  That too no doubt has a connection to being a police officer, though on another level it is just a part of who I am as a person.

But on further reflection the State Police connection goes deeper.  Being a police officer becomes more than a job.  It becomes a real part of who you are as a person.  The uniform became a symbol of that reality.  It is said that a police officer is a police officer twenty-four hours a day.  That is true in a legal sense, but it is also true in a much deeper sense.  While you couldn’t wear the uniform when you were off duty, I almost always had my badge and my gun with me wherever I went, and that became the symbol.  As we will see there is a connection here to my waring black now.

We have this family tradition that on someone’s birthday we go around the table and each person says something that they think is special about the birthday person.  My youngest grandson, Daniel, was about ten at the time, and when it was his turn he said, “Daddy Dick sometimes wears a monk’s suit.”  I do have a long robe with a hood that looks like a “monk’s suit”, and I often wear it for my morning time apart as a part of my centering practice.  I thought it was really neat that he had noticed, and he recognized that it was something unique and special about me.  In truth, like the State Police uniform the “monk’s suit” has become a symbol for a part of who I am as a person.  I keep it hanging on a hook on the inside of my closet door, and even when I am not wearing it, when I see it there it reminds me of that deepest part of me that I connect with in my time apart.

Trooper Southworth

The Man In Blue

Like the uniform police officers wear, the clothes that monks wear not only serve to identify them to the outside world, but even more importantly, they serve to remind the monk who he is and the commitment he has made to that Mysterious Other we call God.  When I wore my State Police uniform I always carried myself a little straiter, spoke more carefully, and acted more professionally than I might otherwise  have done.  The uniform reminded me of the commitment I had made as a State Police Officer.

This is at the heart of why I wear black now—to remind me of who I am and to remind me of the commitment I have made to the Spiritual Journey, and to that Mysterious Other I call God.  When I wear black I carry myself a little straiter, speak more carefully, and act more spiritually mature.  I am more caring toward my family and others.  Wearing black gives me the courage to do the things I feel called to do—to fulfill my leadership responsibilities, to write and teach abut spiritual formation, and to preach an occasional sermon.  Wearing black has become a symbol that reminds me to continue “Choosing Authenticity”**—to continue to discover who I am and who I am called to be, and to work to incarnate those discoveries into the way I experience and live my life.

Because at this point in my life it has become a part of who I am as a person, “I’m the man in black”.

____________

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* Lyrics from  http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnnycash/maninblack.html

** Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), Title.

Aug 242012
 

Someone once said that you have a real sense of sin when you finally realize how much you hurt others just being yourself.  Even after many years, working with this reflection leaves me with a deep sense of sin.  My children are all grown, and we have worked through most of the issues in our relationships.  They keep reminding me that their relationship with me is infinitely better than most of their friends have with their parents.  I know that in many ways working through these issues has made them stronger.  I am very proud of them.  Yet as I worked through this reflection the memories are still painful, and as I watch them struggle with life I can still see the results.  What is worse, in spite of the changes in me, I can still see significant remnants of these old dispositions in me now, and they still affect my relationships with my family and friends, even after having left the profession for years.

Being YourselfA police officer friend of mine once asked me if I thought it was possible to be a good police officer and a good human being at the same time.  Clearly he was not sure that was possible.  I sincerely believe that it is possible; however, I believe it is extremely difficult.  I left the police profession a number of years ago, before I began my own practice and before I had the tools for living that I have now.  I wonder sometimes whether I would be a better police officer now than I was then.  It would require me to find a different way to approach the job, but I believe I know at least some of what that approach would be.

    1. In what ways have you hurt your family and friends by “taking the job home?”  Have you worked through those issues with the individuals involved?  Where do you need to ask forgiveness or make amends?  Where do you need to change and grow?
    2. In what ways could you live your current profession differently and in ways that are more an expression of who you really are as a unique spiritual person, and in ways that would not be as destructive to you and your family?
    3. This question should be approached with great caution, but sometimes it does need to be asked.  Is it possible that the personal turmoil created by your profession and the effect it is having on you and your family is calling you to reevaluate your commitment to your profession? 
Note:  This is the last post in the “Taking The Job Home” series.
Aug 132012
 

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

IntimacyIf 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.’”

    1. 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?  
    2. How do you show caring and concern in difficult or painful situations?  
    3. Are your personal relationships safe places for mutual sharing and support?  Why?  Why not?  
    4. What in you needs to change to raise the level of intimacy and trust in your relationships?
Aug 032012
 

Police officers are trained specifically to be suspicious of everything.  In the legitimate interest of safety they are taught to approach every vehicle and every person as a potential threat.  They frequently sit with their backs to the wall in restaurants, even when they are off duty, and they are often required by regulations to carry a weapon everywhere they go.  The patrol officer looks at every vehicle and every citizen as a potential violator or criminal.

My wife often accused me of being “swivel necked” as I turned to look at each car and each driver that passed us on the highway, even when we were on vacation. The investigator is trained to question the truthfulness of statements made by criminals, witnesses, and victims alike.  Even when preliminary information contains no indication of deception, the officers with well-developed “investigative dispositions” will keep asking themselves what they have missed.  Even now in writing this article I recognize that I am predisposed to ferret out the negative aspects of my police experience rather than the positive aspects that were obviously present.

All of this is for good and valid reasons.  It quite honestly keeps police officers alive, and it solves cases.  Almost every assault on a police officer can be traced, at least partially, to the failure of the officer to follow appropriate safety guidelines, and somewhere in all of the apparently truthful statements in most unsolved criminal cases is a deception that, if discovered by an officer with a more critical investigative disposition, would solve the case.

This idea permeates police training.  Trainers set up crime scenes in which the evidence is misleading to see if the trainee can catch it.  In classes on interrogation techniques they teach all kinds of devious ways of tripping people up.  I was actually in one class on interrogation techniques where an example given by the instructor revolved around how he got his ten-year-old daughter to “confess” to putting a crayon mark on the wall.

I once assisted with a class related to stopping vehicles on the highway.  During several days of classes we put the group through every conceivable situation in which they could get hurt or deceived.  They were lied to, argued with, threatened, and shot.  Each time a trainee was tripped up, their classmates laughed, and we emphasized what the trainee had done wrong.  Not one situation involved an honest person that engendered trust or a situation in which the trainee could handle the situation appropriately.  In the end they were trained not to trust anyone, and I would argue, not even to trust themselves.  When I questioned this I was told that the focus on the risks involved in routine strops was necessary to keep them alive.

Dispositions At HomeBut what happens when police officers take this tendency to question everything home with us and apply it in our family relationships?  Put quite simply, their spouse and their children become suspects in every family disagreement.  The lack of trust permeates even simple family encounters.  One day my hairbrush was missing from my dresser where I always keep it.  I caught myself going from family member to family member, basically conducting a criminal investigation.  I questioned each person critically, and when no one confessed, I went back and questioned them again.  The second time the questions were even more pointed.  They sounded frightfully like interrogations, complete with accusations and those trick questions designed to trip them up.  When my daughter got angry and ran up the steps and slammed her door, my response was, “I was just trying to find my damn brush!”

It was not wrong for me to ask family members what happened to my brush.  The problem was in the approach and the underlying attitude of distrust.  When they said they did not know where the brush was I did not believe them, and I accused them of lying to me.  I responded like a good Trooper, not like a good husband and father.  As husband and father I could have asked if anyone had seen my brush, and even if everyone would help me find it.  I even had the right to ask them to please leave the brush on my dresser and to hold them accountable for that, but I honestly had no reason to believe that anyone was intentionally lying to me, or that they had intentionally “stolen” the brush.   As it turned out my wife had taken the brush in the bathroom to clean it for me and had simply forgotten to put it back.

There is an important point to be made here.  This was not a thought out response.  It was not the way I wanted to act.  It was a “relatively lasting patterned response” that was triggered by the situation.  Given the same type of situation when I was a police officer, the response would have been appropriate.  In my family it served to create conflict and distance between us.

I think this disposition has been most destructive in relation to the way I handled situations involving my daughters as teenagers.  Like most parents, one of my greatest fears was that my kids would get involved in the drug scene.  There were very good reasons for trusting my kids in this area, and yet, let one of them come in just a little late and look even a little tired, and that disposition to question was triggered.

On one occasion my youngest daughter came home looking really tired and stressed out.  There were really good reasons for that, but I immediately started looking at her eyes, and asking questions which could only indicate that I thought she might have been using drugs.  I did not really think so, but I was still asking the questions.  She usually responds to such questions with anger, but this time it was different.  This time she looked at me and said, “You really think I’ve been using drugs, don’t you.”  The pain in her eyes was immense and overshadowed the tiredness.  I denied it and tried to explain, but the damage had already been done.  We have talked about it, and I think she understands, but the unconscious affects of that encounter, and others like it, on our relationship will never be fully known by either of us.

    1. In what ways does your job require you to question the motives and actions of others?  In what ways does it involve developing trust Are you more likely to trust or distrust others in the work environment?  How well is that balanced?
    2. How do you handle situations involving trust with family and friends?  Do you often question people’s motives and actions when there is no reason to doubt them?  On the other hand, do you sometimes resist asking reasonable questions to avoid conflict?  Why?  How well is that balanced?
    3. Do family and friends trust you with private information, or are they guarded in what they will share with you?  Why?  
Jul 302012
 

Police Officers deal with a substantial amount of pain and suffering. Each time they answer an emergency call they must deal first hand with both the victims and perpetrators of all types of violence, from traffic crashes to rape and murder. At crime scenes they must examine and handle dead bodies and other evidence that my daughter would describe as “Oh, gross!” Even in so called nonviolent crime they must deal with people at their worst. Police Officers arrest husbands and fathers and leave their spouses and children crying in the yard. On patrol they happen upon a friend out with their neighbor’s wife. How are they to deal with all of this?

The training starts early. In the academy we are told repeatedly that we must not become emotionally involved. We attend autopsies where the pathologist passes around hearts, brains, and other assorted body parts. We then return to the academy where everyone jokes about the spaghetti and meat sauce we have for dinner.

Our awareness of the desensitization becomes lost in the statistics when we get out on the road. We work four hundred accidents, five rapes, and six homicides the first year. We arrest a prostitute with a kid who has AIDS, and knock on our neighbor’s door at two in the morning to tell them that their daughter was just killed in a traffic crash. It seems that we would be devastated by this human tragedy if we allowed ourselves to become emotionally involved. When we dare mention this to a “seasoned” officer, we are told that “it is part of the job.” We are told that if we are to do that job right we must keep our distance. In a thousand different ways we are told to remain detached. In effect the desensitization becomes an institutionalized and even encouraged trait.

I was riding with a Chicago police officer as part of a training program some time ago, and we answered a call to a suicide. There were several uniformed policemen standing around the house, and we were advised that a young man had hung himself inside. There were two old women sitting in the living room sobbing, and a young man was crying and screaming and beating his fists against the wall. His brother had hung himself in the next room. One sergeant’s only response to all of this was to threaten to arrest the women and the brother if they did not shut up. It was as if the boy had imposed on us by putting himself out of his own misery.

The training was clear. The only way to deal with this type of situation was to remain detached. Yet the sergeant’s reaction points to something even more important. He expected the relatives of the victim to respond in the same detached way. He was threatening to arrest them for being upset about the death of their loved one.

To Remain DetachedIt is not hard to see what happens when police officers take this disposition to remain detached home with them. We can picture how the good sergeant would respond to the death of a member of his family. Some time ago my wife’s mother died, and she was crying. I wanted very deeply to comfort her, but as I held her what I felt was impatience with the whole thing. As hard as I tried I could not empathize with her pain. I continued to hold her, but she could feel the impatience and detachment I experienced.

On another occasion my wife watched from the window as our son rode his bike off the side of a culvert and ended up sprawled out on the concrete below. She yelled for me and went running out the door. I cussed under my breath at the interruption and walked outside to see what the fuss was all about. By this time our son was getting up so I just went back into the house to finish the paper. Winnie was furious and I missed an opportunity to deepen my relationship with my son.

This disposition to remain detached in emotionally charged situations does serve police officers in emergencies. Without it we probably could not function. But when we take it home it is destructive. For me it was a major component of what Michelle was talking about when she told me that I was not there when she needed me as a child.

  1. In what ways does your job seem to require you to be detached from the people, events, and things that make up your workday? In what ways do you become overly involved in ways that affect your ability to do your job?
  2. Are you aware of how your actions affect your managers, peers, subordinates, customers, etc. at work?
  3. Are you aware of how your actions affect members of your family at home?
  4. How do you deal with criticism and conflict at work with managers, peers, subordinates, customers, etc.? How well does this work.
  5. How do you deal with criticism and conflict at home, with family and friends? How well does this work?
Jul 212012
 

A police officer is expected to be in control of a myriad of different situations.  They are expected to take charge of everything from a traffic crash to a race riot.  They are expected to be able to counsel family members in a domestic dispute and subdue the participants in a street fight.  The list is endless.

They act out this disposition every time they respond to a radio call or observe a violation or disturbance.  In a thousand different situations, many of which are life threatening, they arrive on the scene, quickly evaluate it, determine the appropriate action, and take control.  Once they have decided on a course of action they have a badge and a gun and a dozen backup units to enforce it.  It may be questioned later, but in the heat of the moment they are in control.  In many ways this disposition to take control is at the heart of what it means to be a police officer.

So what happens when we take this disposition home?  In varying degrees we become dominating spouses and authoritarian parents.  The other day my wife was trying to get our son to wash the dishes.  I walked in and immediately evaluated the situation.  They were locked in a battle of wills.  I took immediate control.  I admonished Winnie for being bossy and not allowing Mark any space to save face.  I then talked to Mark about taking care of his responsibilities and told everyone else to leave the room until Mark could get himself straight and do his job.

Taking control at homeIn less than five minutes I had given Winnie a warning, dispersed the bystanders in the dispute, and sent the perpetrator into the kitchen to do the dishes.  I’d been a good Trooper.  The problem was that I still had to live with these people.  I could not get in my patrol car and drive away.  Predictably my wife and I got in a heated argument.  Michelle defended her mother.  I justified my actions like a good Trooper.  In the heat of it I could not understand why they were so upset.  After all, I had taken care of the problem.

My actions were inappropriate in the context of a family relationship.  I had embarrassed Winnie in front of the whole family, and had undermined her authority with our son.  In the end I had alienated myself from everyone.  This was not a situation that called for me to take control.  It may not have required any response from me at all.  If it called for a response it should have been a supportive, caring response, and not an authoritarian one.  If I had constructive suggestions I should have quietly taken Winnie aside and offered them in a loving way.  The disposition to take charge was destructive when acted out in my family relationships.

    1. What authority do you have in your job?  Do you tend to assume authority in the workplace or avoid it?  Why?  Are you most comfortable leading or following?  Why?  
    2. Do people in the workplace see you as demanding and authoritarian, or do you have trouble asking someone to help with a difficult task?  
    3. Now consider your approach to authority in the family.  In what ways do you use the same approach as you do at work?  How does it affect your family relationships?  
    4. It is important to consider both sides of this question.  Do you try to take control in inappropriate ways?  Do you avoid taking responsibility and control when it is needed or expected?  How does this affect your relationships outside of work?
Jul 142012
 

There has been much talk about “the professional police officer,” and the same focus is often found in other professions. When we think about a professional police officer we often think of an officer that is well trained, well equipped, and well paid.  These are important parts of professionalism, but how does professionalism translate into a disposition—a patterned response to the various people, events, and things police officers encounter in their job?  As a Professional I dressed neatly, carried myself erect, and spoke politely. I carried out my duties with efficiency and authority.  While there are many other aspects to professionalism, this seems to capture the image we recognize when we say that someone “looks professional.”

I remember going into a large dance hall very late on a Saturday night to arrest someone.  Intoxicated people were dancing shoulder to shoulder throughout the room.  I remember thinking, “If I am going to pull this off I have to really look professional.”  I straightened my jacket and gun belt, and pulled the ten gallon hat just a little further down over my eyes.  I walked erect and with determination.  Inside I felt a kind of detached superiority.  I brought with me into that room the entire professional image of Virginia’s finest, and it served me well.  The crowd opened up to let me through.  I “got my man” and walked out without incident.

Walking into that dance hall without backup was not the smartest thing I ever did, but it was the professional disposition that helped to keep me alive in that and many other situations.  In more routine encounters with the public it helps to build respect and cooperation, and it helps police officers to feel good about themselves.  Rightfully this disposition of professionalism is taught in our police academies, supported by our peers, and rewarded through merit ratings and promotions.

BeingProfessionalAtHome

This disposition had at least two destructive effects when I acted it out in my family relationships.  On one level it had the same effect it had in the dance hall.  I would walk in the front door, still carrying myself erect with the hat tucked down over my eyes.  The kids would scream, “Daddy’s home!” and come running in to greet me.  But they would stop just a little short of jumping up in my arms.  In fact they would keep about the same distance the people did in the dance hall.  That professional image is at least part of what my daughter referred to as “hard and unapproachable.”  On this level the professional disposition worked.

But on another level the disposition did not work in my family relationships.  The problem was that the result was inappropriate.  I should not have been looking for the same type of respect in my family relationships that I sought in my job.  To my family the image was a facade.  They have seen me when I was dressed like a slob, slouched on the couch watching some junk program on TV, and cursing and throwing things as I went about some job that I did not want to do.  They had seen me when I was anything but professional, and when I acted out this image at home they either responded to me as some kind of pompous ass, or just did not take me seriously.  What they did not do was respect me for my actions.

All of this set into motion a destructive spiral.  As my family pulled away I accuse them of not caring, and when I perceived that they did not respect me, I fought for that respect in other destructive ways, and I pulled away even further.

I remember one day when my oldest daughter walked up to me and said in a very measured tone, “Daddy, do you realize you are acting like a jerk?”  I responded with “Teresa, one of these days you are going to say something like that and I am going to knock you across the room,” to which she replied calmly, “Daddy, some things are just worth it.”  So much for the professional image.

In my job the professional disposition helped to keep me alive, and helped to build respect and self-confidence.  In my family relationships it built a wall between my family and me, and left me alienated and alone.

  1. Describe the image you present in your work environment.  Consider the image you present to peers, to subordinates, to management, to vendors, and to customers.  How are these images different?  How are they the same?  Do these images gain you respect with these different people.  
  2. Describe how these images are played out in your other relationships outside of work, especially with family members and close friends.  How have they affected the quality of these relationships?  
  3. When these images are acted out in these other relationships do they engender respect and intimacy, or do they serve to make you appear hard and unapproachable and push people away?  
  4. How do these images affect your ability to make new friends outside of the law enforcement community?
Jul 062012
 

A disposition is a relatively lasting patterned response we develop to help us function in similar situations in our daily lives.  Without dispositions we would have to evaluate every event and decide on the best course of action.  We would also have to think about how to perform each action.  Dispositions give us the ability to respond quickly and preconsciously to similar events.

Dispositions are more than habits.  A disposition includes all aspects of my response to an event.  It includes my thoughts, my emotions, my impulses, and my resulting actions.  As a Trooper, when I observed a vehicle being operated in a reckless manner, I would think, “That guy’s dangerous.  I need to stop him before he hurts someone!”  I might feel keyed up and attentive, and even somewhat apprehensive and aggressive as I prepared to stop the vehicle.  I would check traffic, get my vehicle into proper position and stop the suspect.

All of these thoughts, emotions, impulses, and actions make up a disposition: a patterned response to a repeated event in my life.  As a Trooper I generally responded in a similar manner when I observed a traffic violation.  I did not think about it.  The disposition acted preconsciously.  The disposition was developed through the training I received, through peer modeling, and through my repeated experience in similar situations,*

A Family Moment

A Family Moment

Professional deformation is when I take dispositions I develop in my profession and act them out in other situations, such as my family relationships, in such a way that they are deformative or destructive.  Quite simply it is when I take the job home with me in such a way that it creates problems in other aspects of my life.

When I was riding in the car with my daughter, who was just learning to drive, and she pulled out in front of another car, I sometimes thought, “That’s dangerous, she has to be corrected!”  I felt keyed up, apprehensive, and aggressive.  I respond, “If you do that again, you won’t drive for a month!”  It was the same response I made to a traffic violation years ago as a Trooper.  The disposition was still active.  It was appropriate as a Trooper on patrol.  With my daughter it was inappropriate and destructive to our relationship.  Besides that, it does not really help her learn how to drive.

Professional Deformation is a serious problem, not only for police officers, but for most professions.  It is complicated by the fact that we often are not even aware of the problem.  But it goes even further than that. We assume that these dispositions are appropriate, and we cannot understand why the rest of the world does not think, feel and act in the same manner.  When my wife told me that I was being too hard on my daughter, I was likely to respond bluntly that “she’s got to learn to drive right!”  Then we were likely to get into an argument about the appropriate way to discipline children.  Not teach, mind, you, but discipline.  And so the circle went.

There are several specific dispositions I would like to examine.  These particular dispositions are qualities that are considered necessary in a good police officer.  Police training programs attempt to develop them in new police officers, and police supervisors look for them when they consider someone for a promotion.  They at least appear to be functional in the job, but they are often extremely destructive in other areas of our lives, especially in our family relationships.

It is extremely important to recognize that I am focusing here on the police profession because that is part of my personal background that had a significant impact on my own life.  The issues we are discussing often appear to be more blatant in that profession, and it would be easy to avoid their relevance to other job situations where the connection is less obvious.  We need to be diligent in our reflections to see how these dispositions work in other job situations.  We also need to look past these particular dispositions for other personal work related traits that are destructive when acted out in our personal relationships.  While the focus here is on the effects of work related dispositions on personal relationships, further reflection may very well indicate that the dispositions need attention in the work environment as well.

    1. Identify the specific dispositions that are developed and rewarded in the position you chose.  Reflect on each of those dispositions.  
    2. Describe how those dispositions are played out in your other relationships.  What have been the effects of each of those dispositions on those relationships?  Consider getting feedback from people you are close to.  Describe the effects in detail.
____________

Adrian Van Kaam, Formative Spirituality,  vol. 2, Human formation, (New York:  Crossroad Publishing, 1985), Chapter 1.

Jun 302012
 

It was one of those cherished moments.  My sixteen-year-old daughter and I were riding in the car alone.  We began to talk seriously about our relationship, and about some of the struggles we experienced.  I told Michelle it appeared to me that somewhere way down inside she was angry with me, enraged about something that transcended whatever we were trying to talk about.  She responded instantly, and with tremendous force, “I am!  When I needed you, you weren’t there for me.  When I wanted to cuddle up in your lap and talk, you were hard and unapproachable.  Now you want to be a part of my life, and I resent the hell out of it.  You’re damn right I’m angry!”

Trooper Southworth

Trooper Southworth*

I spent sixteen years with the Virginia State Police, serving as a Trooper, a Sergeant, and a Special Agent.  I left a number of years ago to pursue other interests, but I also left because I was burnt out.  Something was very wrong in my life, and I knew it was at least partially related to being a police officer.

Being a police officer is tough business.  Most of us have heard about the tremendous stress involved in the profession, and the strain it places on marriages and families.  My daughter was clearly aware of the connection.  In our conversation she related how she knew to stay away from me when I first came home from work, and how she could tell when I had worked a bad wreck, or been in a high-speed chase.  Some time ago when I was considering going back into law enforcement, she stated to a friend with that same instant forcefulness, “No, I don’t want my Daddy doing that again!”

When police officers look for causes of the stress in our lives we often talk about the negative aspects of the job.  We talk about shift work, being on call, and about the amount of pain and suffering we experience.  We talk about the frustrations caused by a court system that often seems more interested in trying us than the defendant, and about an administration that seems to offer rigid discipline and precious little support.  All of these things are very real, and they do have a negative effect on our family relationships.  In my case they were at least partially responsible for my unavailability to my daughter.

These and other apparently negative aspects of law enforcement are only part of the problem.  There are many apparently positive aspects of the police profession which, when we take them home, are at best ineffective, and at worst, downright destructive.  Some of the traits and dispositions that make exceptional police officers ultimately make very poor spouses, parents, and friends.  To the extent that these traits and dispositions are developed and supported through police training programs and peer support systems, we have institutionalized marital and family breakdown in our profession.  We not only take home the negative aspects of our profession, we also take home the various traits and dispositions that make us good police officers, and those dispositions are often destructive to our relationships.

It is important to emphasize here that most, if not all, professions have traits and dispositions that are fostered by the particular profession, but that are destructive when they are acted out in our other, more intimate relationships.  Professional Deformation may be more easily recognized in Law Enforcement, but it is important for us to identify the deformative dispositions that exist in any profession or job.  I would also add, that even though it may be more recognized in Law Enforcement, it still generally goes unaddressed there as well.

Questions for Reflection

    1. Choose a specific job that you have held that has had a significant impact on you and your family.  This can be your current position or a previous position.
    2. Reflect honestly on the effect that job had on the rest of your life.  Consider how it has affected your spouse, your children, and your other close relationships.  If you are not married consider the effect your job has had on people you have been close to, and whether it has had an impact on your ability to build close relationships.  Describe the overall effect in detail.
____________
* Photograph used with permission from Olan Mills Portrait Studios.
Jun 222012
 

Relationships are never easy, and you and I have had our share of struggling and troubled times, but together we made it.  Together, we cared enough to face our problems; we loved enough not to let go.  And now, what we have is even stronger because of all we’ve been through, all we struggled with.  I sometimes worry about the future, but with you by my side the future seems much brighter—the present more precious, more meaningful.  We need the tears to appreciate the laughter, we must share our problems to realize how much we truly need each other—to give our love the chance to expand, to strengthen, to endure.  We deserve nothing less than a love that will remain through all aspects of our lives.  Together, we will face all obstacles with confidence, because we already know our relationship can endure even the worst of times, as long as we love—share—and stay together.**

Deanne Laura Gilbert

Professional deformation occurs when I take traits and dispositions I develop in my professional life and act them out in other situations, such as my family relationships, in such a way that they are deformative or destructive–when I take the job home with me.  Personal relationships require a different level of trust, vulnerability, and openness than most work relationships.  Traits and dispositions developed in the work environment are often destructive to the intimacy necessary in our relationships with family and friends.  An important part of the spiritual journey involves identifying the professional deformation in our lives and facilitating the growth and change necessary for that intimacy to flourish.  In the process we may discover that we need to reflect on how effective those traits and dispositions are in our work life as well.

 In a series of eight blog posts over the next several weeks I will reflect on various aspects of professional deformation.  I will deal with this topic from the perspective of being a police officer, but the principles apply to just about any occupation.  The specifics will be different, but the general principles are the same.  Topics include:

Richard and Winnie

Relationships

  • Introduction
  • Dispositions
  • To Be Professional
  • To Take Control
  • To Remain Detached
  • To Question Everything
  • Conclusions

Each of these reflections will include several questions for reflection you can use in your own time apart to look seriously at the ways you “take the job home”, how it affects your relationships, and where you need to grow spiritually, both in your professional life and your personal life.

Remember, you can always click on the category “Taking the Job Home” to see all of the posts on this topic.  Be sure to “join the conversation” by adding your comments and questions to the various posts.  I will be reading your comments and adding my thoughts and suggestions.

Read, Reflect, Enjoy!

________________

*An edited version of the material in these posts was published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 1990.
** Gilbert, Deanne Laura, “You and I” from a greeting card.  Boulder, Colorado:  Blue Mountain Arts, circa 2001.

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