By: Joshua Browne, M.P.S.
This morning, I began pondering the mission of Heal the Badge Consulting, or simply put, the reason I have chosen to expend the effort to create articles, organize and deliver presentations, and finish my first book. I asked myself why I “seek to realize the goal of fortifying law enforcement professionals, leaders and their families, by providing the necessary resilience tools for success within, outside and beyond the law enforcement career.” I also pondered my extended vision to utilize my “law enforcement and academic experience, to lead individuals outside the first responder community, towards reconciling their traumatic experiences and realizing the meaning and growth embedded therein.” It occurred to me that while I have articulated my motivation in various portions of my website, I have somehow forgotten to discuss a foundational principle related to pursuing meaning, one that drives my motivation. It is the tangible manifestation of our desire to fortify, encourage and lift others; service. The craving of human connection is satiated each time we accept or receive service from others, with the experience in either role providing meaning to our lives and combating the nihilism that sometimes percolates in contemporary philosophies (Peterson, 1999).
Recently, I sat on an interview board for prospective police hires. As is common place in police interviews or for that matter, most interviews for any number of professional roles, we asked a question to determine the motivation of the interviewee seeking the position. Although articulated in different ways, most answered with an expression of their desire to “help others,” or in other words, provide meaningful service. Such an orientation towards service to others is certainly a self-evident, almost universal catalyst for most in law enforcement and military roles. In a broader sense, scientific literature reinforces the theme that meaning is subjective (Pattakos & Dundon, 2017; Peterson, 1999) and individuals can conceptualize the service they both provide and receive from a wide range of professional and personal activities, even outside of the helping professions. Regardless of the avenue pursued to extend or receive service, meaningful human connection can be sought and achieved.
It is a paradox that the opportunity to provide meaningful service in the first responder realm, simultaneously satisfies our craving for meaning through human connection, while also exposing us to dysfunctional, traumatic circumstances that challenge our concept of safety, fairness and justice. When we believe our service has yielded fruitful results, we can feel fulfilment. However, when our fifteenth response to the same residence reveals perpetual dysfunction, fueled by a failure of these individuals to heed the well intentioned, legally sound advice grounded in common sense, offered during the previous fourteen visits, a cynical attitude related to the meaning of our service can infiltrate our thoughts. This pessimistic disposition can cloud our once idealistic, or at least optimistic hopes that our professional service has been worth the sacrifice.
If service opportunities can be paradoxical in first responder and other helping professions, how do we mitigate the negative consequences, while elevating the healing properties of service? While many of the resilience building suggestions contained in my previous articles and training materials are equally applicable here, I would like to offer an alternative avenue for reconciling this paradox. Notwithstanding the advice I am about to offer, it is important to reinforce the need to continue to provide service to those who may not utilize it to better their lives, simply because it is the ethical path. The opportunities to give and receive meaningful service are almost endless. However, to further illustrate this principle, I offer the following suggestions:
- Healing and meaning can be located, as you provide mentorship or offer a professional or personal growth opportunity to a grateful coworker, subordinate, superior, friend, acquaintance or stranger. Accepting a similar overture from someone, not only creates the opportunity for your own personal growth but allows both the giver and receiver to locate joy in discarding the zero-sum game fallacy, realizing that synergy allows both to be elevated in the process.
- If you occupy a formal leadership position, this principle can be demonstrated by providing verbal and written recognition of high-quality work, a letter of recommendation or an introduction for a professional or academic opportunity, as well as practical and patient coaching and mentoring. You can also identify and pursue similar opportunities outside of your formal professional role, such as with neighbors, friends and acquaintances.
- Express gratitude to those who have opened doors of opportunity to you.
- Respond positively when someone shares the details of their recent accomplishment and sincerely rejoice in their good fortune.
- Officer empathy and support, when someone confides in you regarding a difficult trial, trauma or tragedy.
- Encourage others as they share their dreams with you and genuinely hope for their success. You can also actively contribute to their success, by pursing the suggestions outlined in my first two suggestions.
- Express gratitude to those who offer you support and encouragement in your struggles, triumphs and the pursuit of your dreams.
- If you are a married, identify and execute meaningful service that demonstrates your eagerness to enhance your spouse’s comfort and happiness.
- If you are a parent, exert the effort to connect with your children and provide meaningful mentorship and support.
- Forgive someone who has wronged you, especially someone who has deliberately sought your demise. I do not mean to imply that you allow this individual to further victimize you, but rather, decide to avoid seeking retaliation and allow this person to be free of your anger and resentment. You might be surprised by the mutual benefit this exercise provides both of you.
Sgt. Joshua Browne, M.P.S. is a police sergeant, adjunct professor within The George Washington University’s Master of Homeland Security Program, and founder of Heal the Badge Consulting. He authors articles and provides training courses in the realms of emotional resilience and altering organizational culture towards wellness. His efforts seek to realize the goal of fortifying law enforcement professionals, leaders and their families, by providing the necessary resilience tools for success within, outside and beyond the law enforcement career. He also utilizes his law enforcement and academic experience, to lead individuals outside the first responder community, towards reconciling their traumatic experiences and realizing the meaning and growth embedded therein.
Pattakos, A., & Dundon, E. (2017). Prisoners of our Thoughts (3rd Rev ed.). Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Peterson, J. B. (1999). Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. New York, NY: Routledge.