I’ve been practicing, studying, and teaching some type of combat discipline for the last 40 years. For 30 of those years, I’ve been continuously involved in martial arts. I’m fortunate enough to have had some phenomenal martial arts teachers over the years, and I’d like to share one of the more abstract lessons I learned from one of them.
The teaching moment came after a particularly hard physical training class about 20 years ago. I was much younger back then, of course, and the students in my training group were at their collective rowdiest. We pushed each other extremely hard—much like siblings would in a large family.
We were cleaning up for the night after class had ended when my teacher began to share a story with me. This was a rare moment because it was a personal story. It involved an interaction he had with another prominent teacher in a foreign country. My teacher arrived there with his students for a training event, but the host teacher did not wish to welcome one of my teacher’s students in particular.
I would later come to find out that this conflict arose from rumors and gossip that had grown out of proportion. My teacher decided to resolve the issue immediately so the student wasn’t excluded from the event—and so no other students would be excluded from any future events.
The one thing that stood out to me in my teacher’s story was how immediately he dove into the heart of the conversation. He had never met the other teacher before. After exchanging simple introductions and common pleasantries, my teacher cut directly to the chase: “I understand you may hate me,” he said, “but please hate me for the right reasons.”
At the time, I was perplexed. It seemed like such an odd thing to say to someone—especially if you are trying to fix things. Why would you ever tell someone to hate you?! I had no point of reference or context to fit the interaction into. It wasn’t until years later that I would really begin to appreciate the deeper meaning and valuable lesson within my teacher’s statement. I only needed a layered perspective—which, unfortunately, is often only provided by time.
Let’s face it: not everyone is going to get along well enough to sit next to one another at Thanksgiving. Some people just weren’t made to pass the gravy back and forth. There are patrol shifts in which people genuinely, personally hate each other.
But if you want to hate me, that hate better stem from something I’ve actually done to you or that I have actually said. Give me the respect that you’d want to receive if it were yourself being judged.
My teacher’s statement was an acknowledgment of his own imperfection. It was an affirmation to the other teacher that he had the freedom to form his own opinion about him. It was a raw, honest request to bring forward any issue that may actually exist between the two of them, without baseless gossip or ambiguous rumors. After all, isn’t this the same gold standard we aspire to in every investigation and court trial proceeding? Direct, first-hand understanding—not hearsay.
As humans, we get feedback from a myriad of sources. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian famously concluded through his studies that the messages we receive from personal communication are 7% verbal, 38% tone, and 55% body language. All of these different sources shape the way others perceive you. While someone’s perception of you may be out of your hands, you are always able to directly send a message about who you truly are.
It sounded weird to me 20 years ago, but you should either love me or hate me for the right reasons—your reasons, not hearsay. As I mature and ultimately get ready to punch out of this profession, I find myself continuously circling back to this tenet. Judge me for whom I have been, for the things I have done, and for the person, I am standing before you. It was a lesson that I needed to digest slowly, and one that took a whole career for me to appreciate.
So, what type of patrol officer, supervisor, or administrator will you actually be? Have you given yourself the genuine opportunity to be that person? I hope so. But what about others? Have you given them the same opportunity? Or have you succumbed to the wheel of rumors and half-truths that are prevalent in many agencies across the country? I’m sure all of us have heard it in our hallways and locker rooms. “Did you hear? So-and-so put in for this!”
Well, have you spoken with that person directly, worked alongside them, and/or have intimate knowledge of the situation? Or is your perception of them coming from some indirect source? If you are willing to have a courageous conversation with someone you may know little about, you might be surprised.
Love me or hate me, please. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reason.