In my previous article, we looked at:
‘Good Cynicism’ Is Really ‘Tactical Skepticism’
In the previous article, I dubbed the good cynicism as tactical cynicism and agreed it could be helpful to street survival. I’ve gotten more educated since then. It’s one of the beauties of continued learning.
It’s tactical skepticism, not cynicism that best serves officers’ safety and the community. This is an important distinction in life, philosophy and police tactics.
A cynic believes in and expects the worst of people. Cynics blindly accept information that confirms their negative outlook. Their cynicism becomes a self-reinforcing prophecy.
A skeptic questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. Skeptics are indiscriminate. They question bad news as well as good. A skeptic has reservations about things, but a cynic has a negative attitude about everything.
Another difference between a skeptic and a cynic is emotion. Skeptics question the validity or accuracy of things dispassionately, based on reason. Cynics bring an emotional component to their judgments. That’s because most of them started out as idealists and then were disabused by reality. Having your heart ripped out and stomped flat can foster strong negative emotions that harden into an attitude.
Tactical skepticism trumps tactical cynicism when it comes to street survival. Officers who dispassionately question how things appear when judging people and events and are mindful of reason-based reservations will be safer than those who jump to emotion-based conclusions.
There’s More to Policing than Street Tactics
In the previous article, we also looked at the bad cynicism described above—why police officers are at high risk for such cynicism, and all of its attendant negative consequences.
We discovered that cynicism has gotten a bad rap only in present times. Ancient cynics led disciplined, austere, virtuous lives and told the truth about those who were pretentious, hypocritical or wicked. That’s not a bad thing.
I’m proposing a post-modern philosophy for policing that I call heroic cynicism. Although dispassionate skepticism is a good street tactic for officers and their communities, emotion has a vital role to play in an officer’s career.
What Is Heroic Cynicism?
Many officers start off as idealists; they want to do noble things and make a difference. But they often get disabused of idealistic notions by the realities of the job (which we discussed in the previous article).
Telling officers to “look at the bright side” or “every cloud has a silver lining” or even just “buck up, life isn’t fair” doesn’t offer much. Heroic cynicism is the alternative to both idealism and the bad cynicism everyone rails against.
Cynics with a sense of humor serve a positive societal purpose, as readers of Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, H.L. Mencken and Ambrose Bierce will attest. They meet the standard of what Rick Bayan, on his Web site, The Cynic’s Sanctuary (www.i-cynic.com), refers to as the positive cynic. It may be positive, but it’s not heroic.
Heroic cynicism allows no cop out—humorous or not. It requires continuing to fight the good fight, knowing the odds, not knowing whether you will prevail, because that’s the story you want your life to tell.
Teddy Roosevelt, once Commissioner of the NYPD, understood heroic cynicism. He said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena: whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive valiantly; who err and come short again and again … who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at least know in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
The best recruits and officers aren’t idealists. They are heroic cynics. They know the world can be a lousy place, and they still find things they are passionate enough about to fight for, even when the odds are stacked against them.
And the most heroic maintain a cynic’s rueful humor while battling on, like the Spartan Dienekes. In 480 B.C., the Spartans faced certain defeat in a battle to defend Thermopylae against an overwhelming Persian invasion. Their brave last stand to the death has become a cultural icon of valor. It’s said that on the eve of battle, Dienekes was told that the Persian archers were so numerous that, when they fired their volleys, the mass of arrows blocked out the sun. Dienekes remarked with a laugh, “Good, then we’ll have our battle in the shade.” [Herodotus, The Histories ]
How Do We Recruit & Maintain Heroic Cynicism?
Heroic cynics make good recruiters, FTOs and patrol sergeants. They harbor affection for idealists because they were once one, too. They don’t want the realities of the job to crush the idealistic recruit’s or officer’s spirit before they can prepare them and toughen them up. Heroic cynicism can toughen recruits and officers up without defeating them.
Recruiters, FTOs and patrol sergeants can encourage heroic cynicism by asking recruits and officers the following:
Scenario-based training should include such scenarios as:
And ask recruits and officers how that will make them feel? What will they do if these scenarios happen repeatedly?
Law enforcement officers face many battles in the course of a career. Not just street battles but the slings and arrows of a public that often doesn’t understand or appreciate them, a justice system that doesn’t do justice and failures of management. Heroic cynicism might be just the armament needed to valiantly battle in the shade.