In recent years - especially post-9/11 - our public servants have been more intentionally and deservedly thought of and talked about as "heroes". This has not been so much an issue of them "becoming", but of the rest of us "recognizing" and "realizing". While I am fully supportive of this attitude and participative in expressing my gratitude, I've noticed somewhat of a discrepancy over the last few years. It was affirmed (and magnified) recently when a friend of mine (who I'll call MY FRIEND) shared with me about a conversation she'd had with another friend (who I'll call HER FRIEND). It went something like this:
HER FRIEND: "Watch out when you go down that hill. There's always a cop hiding there, waiting to bust someone for speeding."
MY FRIEND: "How do you know?"
HER FRIEND: "He pulled me over the other day. But he let me go with a warning. So...he made it back to zero."
MY FRIEND went on to ask HER FRIEND if she was actually speeding, to which she admitted, "Yes." MY FRIEND then proceeded to confront HER FRIEND about her unintentional, yet undeniable admission to holding what has become an incredibly common and shared stereotype. HER FRIEND - for whatever reason, fair or unfair - has embraced this prejudice: POLICEMEN START AT ZERO.
Think about this for a moment: How many negative thoughts or perceptions do we have of firemen? Not many. Other than that horrible character played by Scott Glenn in Backdraft, there are just not many situations or scenarios where we find ourselves looking on a fireman in a negative light. And for just reasons. They serve long hours. Some of them on a volunteer basis. They run into burning buildings. They respond (repeatedly) to false alarms and fender benders. Their job is all about serving, protecting, and saving others. But isn't that what the Police do as well? Don't they also selflessly serve and protect? (Sure, I know there's the exception. I know you've had your encounter with "that cop" who you thought acted like a real jerk. Me too. But that's the exception, not the rule. Follow me here.
We all not only agree that we have to have laws, we WANT those laws in place.
But when we are the ones who BREAK those laws - when we speed or run a red light - we suddenly want the police to ignore us. If my neighbor is blasting 130 db's at 2:00 in the morning, I want the police to attend to my situation with laser-focused attention. But not when I'm doing 82 in a 65 MPH zone.
Our thinking is off. Our judgment is hypocritical.
If you accidentally set your back yard on fire, do you want firemen to come and put it out? Absolutely. And HURRY! If you accidentally stop paying attention and speed through a school zone, do you want the police to pull you over and fine you? Absolutely NOT! Look away!
Back to that cop that "acted like a real jerk" for a moment. Have you ever thought about the fact that every single time an officer or Highway Patrolman approaches a vehicle they have absolutely ZERO idea who or what they're going to be dealing with? Do you know how many lame, ridiculous, unbelievable, far-fetched excuses they get handed? Do you know how many of them have been intimidated, run down, cussed out, and yes, shot at by "really nice people"? Pick one of those. Just one. How many times of that recurring in your life - in your day - would it take before you began approaching every car with a different attitude? I know, I know; you're the exception. That light was yellow a minute ago! Right?
I've recently had the privilege to get to know some of our city's police officers. They are true servants. They are dedicated. They are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. They are sons and daughters. Just like you and me. I believe that when we consider these things, we will begin to look at these hard-working servants in a different light. A light that shines far brighter and far above a ZERO. And maybe we'll begin to also consider how we can serve and protect them.
What's something tangible you can do to express gratitude to a police officer?
How can we better appreciate our public servants? All of them?