Jesse Williams and Randy Larcher recently shared a wonderful article through Calibre Press called “The Power of Thinking Small.” I hope they’ll permit me to expand on their thoughts with some of my own.
Their article sent me off on a mission to examine the current perspective, at least how I have perceived it, of so many police officers around the country. I have worked in law enforcement since 2001 and I have never seen so many of my friends and coworkers feeling disheartened with many wishing they were employed in a different career.
The reason for this nearly profession-wide feeling of disenchantment has been what many feel is an attack on the integrity of the profession itself. Police officers often describe themselves as having been called to be in law enforcement because they want to work towards an end bigger than themselves. They have a natural inclination towards service to others. So how can we, as individuals, ever hope to reach those lofty and abstract goals to which we are called?
By thinking small.
The Absurdity of It All
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that there are no facts, only interpretations. As police officers, we might scoff at the notion that there are no facts. We make a living off facts and evidence. We use facts and evidence to find and apprehend the most sinister and hateful predators in our society so we can protect and preserve a peaceful existence for the community. We take ourselves and this commitment to the whole very seriously and we truly believe we can make a difference. Because of this, many of us feel a great sense of disbelief and defeat when the courts give that criminal a lenient sentence or when the people we are trying to protect seemingly turn against us in protest. Judges, attorneys, and juries seem to misinterpret the truth and the facts on a regular basis.
The absurdity of our position as police officers is that we strive towards abstract concepts that are interpreted in various ways by various people throughout human history. Justice means something very different to you when you are the victim, the officer who put in hundreds of hours on the investigation, or a complete stranger who only knows of the crime through the media.
Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus explores this idea of the absurd. Absurd in this case doesn’t mean something that’s just nonsense or a ridiculous proposition to a reasonable person. The kind of absurd Camus explores is the idea that the world never meets our expectations of fairness, justice, or significance.
After experiencing and acknowledging the complete absurdity of our profession—as we all undoubtedly will at some point—we can come to accept that position. Now we must decide what to do. Our drug investigators are working against unbeatable odds to stop people from poisoning each other; homicide detectives will never stop murders; community policing officers will never be able to bring both sides of every argument to an amicable solution. Should we even keep doing these jobs?
Of course. We should keep doing it because our relationships with others is what matters. I thought Williams and Larcher did a great job demonstrating how the little things in life matter. I might go out on a limb and say they are the only things that matter. We don’t have to let our absurdity define us and limit our response to these situations. It seems to me that absurdity is most apparent when we view ourselves in the big picture. I bet all the cops reading this can think of a time they made an individual difference to a person or during one specific situation.
Every big Truth, with a capital “T,” might just be a matter of interpretation. But our individual conception of justice or morality is insignificant, because ultimately these differences are transcended by how we treat each other. Our passion and our goals must aim to make a difference in real people’s lives. The thoughts and opinions of others, even when they appear to undermine our deeply held beliefs, do not warrant an extreme response on our part.
As we carry on with our chosen profession that gives us glimpses of absurdity and sometimes seems like a complete waste of time, we have to remember we can all make small differences. And in the end, those are the kind of differences we should be striving to make.
No one can change the world alone. The best we can do is to work together to make the small differences across all of our individual communities. Those small differences are the ones we want to make anyway because they seem, somehow, to have the most impact. A sincere “thank you” from a true victim or the joy you give your kids when you choose to jump on the trampoline—those are the times you make the most impact.