Value of Spiritual Survival Tools for Law Enforcement Officers
By Cary A. Friedman
A young cadet, filled with energy and hope for the future and motivated by idealism and a desire to make a difference, enters the police academy. Ten years later, that officer has experienced years of exposure to human suffering and evil, an often critical and unappreciative public, corruption, and injustice. All of these factors take a heavy toll. The negative effects of police officer stress have resulted in countless initiatives, including mentoring programs, counseling, and emotional tools.
Not enough attention focuses on the spiritual dimension of a law enforcement career. Many departments have talented, capable chaplains who play significant roles in individual counseling and spiritual advising for those who take advantage of their assistance. However, chaplain services often remain unused by officers who sometimes perceive them as being associated with religious dogma. This perception occasionally makes chaplaincy unappealing to those unreceptive to messages with religious overtones.
Whether or not officers are religious, the career presents vexing questions and challenges of a spiritual nature that they cannot afford to ignore. Officers need a way to obtain spiritual sustenance and fortification for the difficult challenges they face without having to enter into a religious discussion. Spiritual survival tools provide an approach to matters relevant to the spirit that address the concepts of evil, suffering, and human beings’ role in the universe without being attached to a particular religious belief system.
Often, law enforcement officers suffering from spiritual malaise obtain no help from department services. When a crisis (e.g., line of duty death, natural catastrophe, or terrorism attack) occurs, the resources available to the agency might be numerous or appear all-encompassing, but often they arrive too late. Without advance spiritual fortification, officers sometimes cannot withstand the tragedy.
Spiritual survival tools must exist before a crisis occurs. The jobs of chaplains and trauma experts would become easier because officers would be more open to their messages. Many law enforcement officers routinely grapple with spiritual questions. When a crisis occurs, either personal or departmentwide, these ponderings sometimes escalate to adverse proportions.
- Why am I in this profession?
- Why are people so evil?
- Why do the innocent suffer?
- What happened to my youthful idealism?
Rabbi Friedman is a law enforcement trainer; hospital, prison, and police chaplain; and associate director of an institute dedicated to officer survival.
Officers with strong religious affiliations might get their spiritual needs addressed by attending a church, synagogue, or mosque and developing closer relationships with clergy. However, officers without that association or relationship face a disadvantage.
Many officers’ questions remain unaddressed, and traditional methods used for decades become ineffective for the needs of a 21st-century officer. For these individuals, spiritual survival tools play a critical role in preparing them to confront the realities of a law enforcement career.
Emotional problems receive emotional solutions, and physical problems result in physical solutions; therefore, answers to spiritual issues must remain spiritual in nature. Law enforcement officers who routinely confront the worst of the human condition contend with moral questions more often than their leaders realize.
Spiritual insights provide officers with the survival tools necessary to achieve paramount spiritual health. These tools help officers find their own reservoir of morality so that when a crisis occurs, they have internal fortification for protection and strength.
Developing Spiritual Motivators
Law enforcement officers hold the greatest likelihood of success and protection from stressors if they remain aware of and in touch with the right kind of motivation. Spiritual survival skills help officers determine their own motivators and gain sustenance from them during a crisis.
Human beings contain endless spiritual reservoirs they need to tap into to remain effective. Someone else’s motivator provides no value to an officer because individuals must learn about their own unique internal inspirations. What images, ideas, and people encourage officers to do their jobs well? Spiritual motivators amount to powerful tools that provide fortification even in the most despairing moments if an officer knows how to use them. A spiritual motivator can consist of almost anything—a picture, writing, memory, principle, or song. Officers need to know what inspires them. Each person’s motivators remain unique and a product of their own individual composition.
A spiritual mentor can help an officer identify motivators. However, a well-meaning mentor sometimes attempts to convince the individual to adopt the mentor’s motivator. This proves detrimental to everyone involved. Spiritual survival training assumes that the same stimulus does not work for everyone. Officers must connect with their own personal motivators by using the technique of developing their credo.
Writing a Credo
Unclear abstract ideas possess no power to inspire or fortify a person in the face of challenge or temptation. No matter how beautiful or profound, spiritual ideas provide little influence if vague and not immediately accessible to the person. Individuals must put these values into clear, succinct words to keep them from being shadowy, vague, and indistinct; buried; or powerless to inspire or strengthen. If officers define them in plain, concrete terms, these beliefs bestow the power to provide fortification that exists deep in the core of the individual.
A credo consists of a clear, concise, specific formulation of the most fundamental, cherished beliefs by which human beings live their lives. This individual personal expression constitutes the portal to that individual’s spirituality. A proud warrior spirit—an intense desire to make a difference, help the weak, champion justice, and combat evil—often motivates people to become law enforcement officers. Add power and responsibility, the public’s trust and mistrust, physical danger and emotional cruelty, and stakes and opportunities for ethical confusion and compromise, and it becomes difficult to understand how any officer manages to navigate through an entire career with integrity intact and ethical clarity unclouded. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of a law enforcement career, early ambitions can become lost and forgotten.
People’s credos encapsulate the essence of who they are, what they believe, and what they aspire to do in the world. A credo captures and connects officers to the nobility of spirit that first led them to a law enforcement career. A conscious, intense philosophy helps the officer remain anchored, calm, focused, and clear even in the face of chaos, confusion, and temptation. With a clearly defined, precisely articulated set of inner-guiding principles, officers can make sense of the experiences of the profession, both successes and failures. Temptations and disappointments exercise less power over individuals who have clarity at their core.
Like any tool on an officer’s duty belt, the credo must remain effective, familiar, immediately accessible, and unequivocal. Law enforcement careers may end due to ethical violations, perhaps more so than physical violence; therefore, the credo may be more valuable than any other piece of equipment.
Creation of a credo requires work and thought. Officers must learn how to articulate their fundamental beliefs and formulate a credo specific to and effective for them. The need to rediscover and replenish the idealistic internal motivations that brought the officer into the career remains greater in today’s society because community distrust and media criticism often exacerbate police crises.
Recognizing Inherent Goodness
For their safety, officers must view people as potential criminals or threats. It proves difficult to live a fulfilling spiritual life with the sense that evil lurks around every corner. However, this perspective remains a reality for police officers, and it comes with consequences for their spiritual lives. Family life and relationships suffer if an officer constantly looks for potential violence and depravity in people. Human beings recognize that while malevolence exists in the world, most people continue to be upstanding. Officers must learn to transition between a perspective of vigilance necessary to stay physically safe and a viewpoint that enables them to expect decency in other people. This technique, creating a transition ritual, is essential for a psychologically and emotionally balanced life.
Creating a Transition Ritual
Many officers perform rituals when they begin work to put themselves into a mind-set of enhanced vigilance. For example, an officer anticipating the beginning of a shift might look in a mirror and say, “Someone is going to try to kill you today. Do not let them.” This simple self-talk routine puts the officer into the mind-set of enhanced awareness needed to anticipate and identify the dangers of the job. At the start of a shift, stepping up the level of attentiveness is important for an officer’s physical safety and well-being.
Police officers also need to transition as their shifts end. At this point, it becomes appropriate to let go of the tactically sound operational principle of officer safety that perceives potential malice in people and step down to a lower level of suspicion that recognizes that most individuals are decent. Officers must remember that although some people are evil, most are respectable. At the end of a shift, lowering the officer’s level of suspicion is important for spiritual health and wellness.
Officers must remain physically safe and psychologically healthy. Achieving one at the expense of the other does not constitute a victory. Spiritual survival tools enable officers to enjoy both. Officers can learn to recognize the decency in people without undermining vigilance. The goal is to integrate two opposite approaches—one necessary for the job and the other for psychological and emotional health. With appropriate tools and training, officers can learn to balance and use different approaches.
Building a Rich Spiritual Identity
Developing an officer’s spiritual identity requires drawing upon the moral aspects of the individual’s multifaceted personality. The goal is not to see oneself as only an officer, but as a human being who chooses to do right in the world through a law enforcement profession. The badge and gun do not define the person. They only enhance the significance of what the officer can accomplish.
Officers who overinvest in one dimension of themselves—their law enforcement role—while ignoring all other aspects put themselves at risk emotionally and psychologically. The frustrations, disappointments, and injustices that exist in law enforcement can take on unhealthy connotations for officers. If they sacrifice all other dimensions of life, officers may feel powerless to control their own destiny and self-definition as human beings. Providing help to someone in need serves as a valuable technique for building an officer’s spiritual identity.
Helping Someone as a Private Citizen
Law enforcement officers should volunteer to, for instance, carry an elderly person’s groceries or serve food at a soup kitchen, simply because they want to exercise compassion and giving. This is an opportunity for officers to reclaim their true identities. They should lend a hand to remind themselves that before they pledged to serve and protect, they desired to help as human beings. Officers, of course, must exercise compassion toward their families.
Spiritual survival training provides an opportunity to create and nourish a rich, multidimensional identity as a person who strives to accomplish greatness in the world. An officer’s law enforcement position consists of only one avenue of expression. Officers must put career disappointments into a healthy perspective.
Some police departments are experiencing crises. Agencies need to fortify their officers. They must not overlook spiritual survival education; it should be a critical aspect of law enforcement training. Today’s officers deserve the best protection they can attain. The author presented some insights and described a number of tools that officers can use; however, many other ideas and techniques exist. A comprehensive training program in spiritual survival keeps officers healthy when faced with the moral onslaught in their professional lives.
For additional information the author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.