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October 11, 2012

The Character Trait that Sets People Apart



As a police officer, my job description has changed over the years but the one thing that still fascinates me about policing is human behavior.

I was never a psychology major in college but I have come to believe that those entering law enforcement should, at the very least, minor in behavioral science.

When I worked the street, I was puzzled by the way different people reacted to similar situations. I found myself viewing the world as a laboratory and every human encounter was an experiment in social behavior.

I started to analyze the ways in which some people reacted to a traffic ticket. Some would be extremely argumentative and rude while others would receive it politely and respectfully. Of-course you might say that a police officer’s demeanor sets the tone for the interaction and I can’t disagree so perhaps that is not the best example in sharing my observations.

I noted that when responding to traumatic incidents, some crime victims were emotionally strong while others seemed to “breakdown” when faced with a similar scenario. Although I noted that people handled death and trauma quite differently, I’ll reserve my commentary because reactions to these situations are at the core of emotion and there are many variables involved.

Rather, I’m referring to incidents where there is a notable hardship incurred but not a loss of life. For example, in responding to burglary victims, it was fascinating to have a front row seat into the layers of emotion that surface when a person was faced with this type of an invasion. Some saw it as a devastating and debilitating blow to their security and peace of mind while others put it in perspective and even found a way to be grateful that there was no human life harmed.

The character trait that sets the two extremes apart is resilience. This can be said for any event or interaction involving human beings. Why does one person fall apart when they are faced with a difficult situation while another perseveres or even thrives in times of turmoil and strife? These coping mechanisms can be seen throughout everyday life if you carefully watch the world around you.

Have you even ridden in a car with someone who becomes furious with other drivers and has fits of rage in response to their actions? This, I believe, comes from the same place that dictates coping skills in other areas of life. When we see people come unraveled by the small inconveniences in life, it is a good indication that they will have trouble coping with bigger problems.

Resilience is a skill that is taught early on. When my children get hurt and I know that it’s nothing life-threatening, I tell them to “suck it up and take the pain.” I’ve gotten curious looks from others when I’ve said this in public but the message I’m trying to convey is that you have to keep moving through discomfort.

If you are alive, it is inevitable that you will experience both physical and emotional pain at some point. How you cope with that pain is what sets you apart from those who survive and those who thrive. Ask any police officer who has been shot and had to continue to fight through the pain in order to live. In that moment, they had to either lie down and surrender or make a conscious choice to survive.

Everyday life isn’t much different. Resilience is gauged by our ability to recognize the stressful (or painful) situation and then consciously choose to maintain composure.

Having the mental fortitude to re-frame pain and place it in proper perspective can add much needed clarity. Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if you don’t believe it’s as good as the one you had before.

You can fight it or you can accept it— and try to put together something that’s better.

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