Perception, Cynicism and You – The Point

Last week I posted a picture of a man and asked for your first impressions.  I also asked you to state where your not you’re a cop and if so, for how long.  Between tons of OT, family obligations, and sheer sadistic entertainment, my reply post was delayed.  Until now.

If you haven’t read the original post, you can click here.  As of the writing of this post, there were a total of 67 comments.  The comments were pretty well divided between first responders and civilians.  I know most of you have spent the last week tossing and turning wondering just what your ol’ buddy MC’s point may be, right?

There is a pretty consistent response from those of us in blue and even a few of you EMS-types with a number of years under your belt.  It’s something that may help to explain our, shall we say, different, points of view and sense of humor.  You may remember a couple weeks ago I posted a video and got a response from a civilian about how very disappointed he was.  I responded in a separate post.  After writing it, it occurred to me that there is a reason that many civilians just don’t “get” it or us.

I started to wonder about how to explain that until I was told about a Street Survival conference some of my co-workers atteneded.  The story went something like this: In this class (full of cops, mind you), the speaker put up a picture of a Boy Scout troop leader.  The speaker asked some officers who have only been on the job for about a year what they saw.

The rookies said things like “leader”, “parent”, “kind” and the like.  The rest of the class was made up of veteran cops.  The speaker had instructed them to say nothing whilst the rookies were answering.  When the rookies were done, the speaker asked the class to respond with one word in unison describing what they saw in the picture.  That word?

Pedophile.

Now, don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying there is one thing even remotely amusing about molestation.  There is a special place in Hell for those people.  What I am saying, and what I think the speaker’s point was, is this job does things to a man’s/woman’s brain.  It takes our wide-eyed innocence and faith in humanity and bitch slaps it right across the face while pissing on our shoes.

Show me a 10 year veteran cop (and I’d wager the same can easily be said for other first responders…note some of the comments on the original post) and I’ll show you a jaded, cynical person.  He/she laughs at inappropriate humor.  He/she makes jokes about the degradation of humanity and man’s inhumanity to man.

We laugh and we make light.  Know why?

Because we walk in the muck and the mire every day so good people like you don’t have to.  You think you live in a quiet, safe little neighborhood where Janie across the street with the sweet husband and 2 kids bakes cookies for you.  What you don’t know is her sweet husband beats her, but she won’t ever tell anyone because she loves her kids and he uses them to keep her in line.

Across your safe little town, your other neighbor’s kid is selling crank to kids at McDonald’s and breaks into cars to steal shit to keep his own habit sated.

Every night in your safe little town, the cops are arresting drunk drivers and preventing them from killing themselves and the little old lady you go to church with.  And let’s not forget the soccer mom that is doped out of her mind on pain pills she got hooked on after her recent surgery…she’s just as under the influence as the 23-year-old college kid at 0200 hrs, only she’s cruising around in the middle of the day when more traffic is out.  Oh, and she has her four kids in the car.

You know what happens to good cops with no sense of humor?  They become burn outs that either cease to care or they become so jaded and cynical that it eats them up inside.  There’s a reason the average number of marriages for police is three (but that’s a whole other post).  This career will literally eat you up from the inside out if you aren’t careful.  Part of our defense mechanism is humor.

Call it gallows.  Call it dark.  Until you’ve spent a number of years in this job, you may very well not understand…and that’s just fine.

So, back to the original post.  You’ll notice that the lion’s share of those that said they were cops and/or other first responders also said the first thing that popped to mind was something akin to “pedophile”.  (By the by, PC 290 is CA code for a sex registrant.)  There were some civilians that said something similar, but it should be noted they had family members in law enforcement (we tend to rub off on loved ones).

It should also mention that I have no clue who the gentleman in the picture is.  I randomly selected the photo from Flickr.  I am not making judgements on him one way or the other.

Seems the speaker at the Street Survival conference was right on the money.  Something to keep in mind is us cops are trained to be suspicious.  About everything.  When was the last time you waltzed into Starbucks and looked at everyone’s hands and demeanors to ascertain if there was any danger?  When you drive down the street, how many cars are you looking at?  How many people are you checking out to see if they’re up to no good?  When you knock on someone’s door do you stand right in front or off to the side?  When you are talking to someone do you stand facing them or slightly bladed?

All of these things take a toll on us.  It builds an unhealthy distrust in people because it means we run less of a risk of getting hurt.  You built us this way.  You need us this way.  We are not effective if we aren’t always looking and questioning almost everything.  The cost is we run the risk of becoming cynical and jaded.

So, let us have our Super Troopers and our “Where’s the Little Girl” videos.  I don’t judge you for thinking Woody Allen is a comic genius.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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25 thoughts on “Perception, Cynicism and You – The Point

  1. Well said!!! My husband is motorcop and that is exactly him! Everything you described!! Like it or not, that’s just the way it is! Love your blog!!! Keep it up!

  2. This is a bit tangential, I know, but the explantation of cop-humor in this post is also a decent explanation why in many contexts we need strong, non-law enforcement oversight of the police. It’s not because cops are bad people or because we’re ungrateful, but because the instincts and culture that (understandably) develop among the police will lead them to make decisions (in various circumstances, from searches to use of force and pre-textual stops) that are beyond what the rest of society views as acceptable.

  3. So it’s safe for me to admit “skanky” was part of my knee jerk, but I squashed it thinking “that’s a mean reaction to someone who is probably a perfectly nice guy, and probably one of MC’s buddies. He’s just a little flushed.” I’m a ER nurse, started nursing in ’87, and I would ashamed if someone thought I was innocent and trusting.

    I hate Woody Allen movies.

  4. I thought something was wrong with him, too. That means that teachers are cynical and jaded, too. Woo-hoo! (but everyone knows that already….)

    That is a good way to point out what training and on the job experience can do to perception. This column is not a surprise. the only big surprise is the coincidence of the article about the West Covina City Council’s complaint about that video. *sigh* Don’t they read your blog?

  5. “Because we walk in the muck and the mire every day so good people like you don’t have to. You think you live in a quiet, safe little neighborhood where Janie across the street with the sweet husband and 2 kids bakes cookies for you. What you don’t know is her sweet husband beats her, but she won’t ever tell anyone because she loves her kids and he uses them to keep her in line.

    Across your safe little town, your other neighbor’s kid is selling crank to kids at McDonald’s and breaks into cars to steal shit to keep his own habit sated. Every night in your safe little town, the cops are arresting drunk drivers and preventing them from killing themselves and the little old lady you go to church with. And let’s not forget the soccer mom that is doped out of her mind on pain pills she got hooked on after her recent surgery…she’s just as under the influence as the 23-year-old college kid at 0200 hrs, only she’s cruising around in the middle of the day when more traffic is out. Oh, and she has her four kids in the car.”

    Many years back, when I competed in formal debate, all teams were required to argue for both sides of the issues. This was so that we didn’t become polarized by our own competitive arguments.

    You’re very evocative of the realities that first responders face every day in their jobs. Humanity is a spectrum — it encompasses the ugly, and the beautiful; neither can exist without the other. Why is it that you don’t seem to talk about the other end of that spectrum in your writing? Is it that you don’t see it? Is it that you think it doesn’t exist? And do you think that first responders are the only ones who ever see the ugly side of life, or have to deal with it?

    I honor and respect your role in the name of the community. And have some level of appreciation for what that entails. We may well have different ideas about how valid that level of appreciation might be — but that prompt’s the question: can either of us afford to truly think that the other just doesn’t “get it?”

    Some time back, there was an advertisement that showed two men. One was obviously a “biker club” type, heavily tattooed and dressed in leathers with symbols. The other was a smaller guy in a shirt and tie, very “normal” in his appearance. One was the image of a thief who had stolen an identity and made unauthorized use of credit accounts. The other was the victim. Which was which? As it turned out, the biker was the victim. I was reminded of that when I saw your image, and noted how several people immediately applied the “pedophile” label to an image you selected from the web. Is it that you see what you expect to see? And react accordingly? What check is there on those instant assumptions?

  6. I skirted around the word, but I was in the ballpark. I try to keep in the middle. AS you know in your day to day activities, wi

  7. People often refer incorrectly to cop/EMT wisecracks as “gallows humor.” It’s not. The term originated as “Galgenhumor” in German. It’s the humor of the oppressed. When a condemned man walking to the electric chair asks “what’s for lunch tomorrow?” he’s engaging in gallows humor. When the guard asks the silent condemned man shuffling to the electric chair “hey Lucky, what do you want for lunch tomorrow” that’s not gallows humor. That’s black humor.

    The psychological reasons for gallows humor versus black humor are different. Gallows humor is an attempt to lessen the sense of oppression. Black humor, what you see in cops and EMTs, is an attempt to dehumanize the witnessed horror and inhumanity as a means of self preservation.

  8. I agree. Street Survival is a great class to get to “get” us. Our spouses were also invited to our classes to help understand the cop culture. Great topics! Love the differences seen by civilians versus the inside.

  9. I was going to say Pedophile, but I talked myself out of it because I thought it would make me look like a sick and cynical human being…which I don’t think I am. Well, at least I hope I’m not. What I am is someone who’s worked in childcare and education most of her life. Now I work for a company who publishes poetry and short stories written by students (k-12). Every year we get poems and short stories detailing things you don’t want to think about happening to the cute kid in pigtails living next door. It happens often enough that we have a form letter for it.

    A lot of times it’s kids writing about what they’ve seen on TV. Sometimes it’s kids writing about other kids they know. But once in a while, they’re writing what they know from first-hand experience. 99% of the time, the kid is already out of the situation and their writing is a way to process what happened.

    So, I am suspicious. And I can’t say I’m happy about it. But it’s hard not to be when reality insists on being so damned real.