I was watching the scene from the movie “Patch Adams” where Robin Williams’ character is defending himself to the Board of Medical Directors to keep his medical certification after being accused of running a clinic without proper licensing. In his poignant speech, Patch tells the Board:
“Every human being has an impact on another. Why don't we want that in a patient-doctor relationship? A doctor's mission should be not just to prevent death but also to improve the quality of life. That's why if you treat a disease, you might win or you might lose. If you treat a person, I guarantee you; you win, no matter what the outcome.”
I applied this concept to police officers and the interactions they have every day with the people in this community. It reminded me that our job is not just to prevent crime, but to ensure that citizens enjoy a good quality of life in the neighborhoods. And the way we do that is to treat the person as Dr. Adams suggested, not just the incident in which the person is involved.
The best officers I know are the ones who understand that each crime victim is going through a traumatic experience. Even if an officer has taken several burglary reports in one day, it is still a profound feeling of violation to each of the victims. The officers who understand and empathize are already practicing the concept of treating the person and not the crime. That means being compassionate in the process of doing their jobs. Since crime victims comprise most of our encounters, they are left with a positive feeling about the police despite the crime against them.
What resonated with me the most were the words that Patch Adams delivered to the Board: “If we're going to fight a disease, let's fight one of the most terrible diseases of all -- indifference.”
The most dangerous place a human can be is the point where they simply don’t care.
Indifference is a disease that manifests itself in organizations and even relationships. Think about all the people walking through life who have lost their passion; and pay close attention to how they relate to the world. They go through the motions as though they are on auto-pilot, never contributing to their own lives or the lives of others.
Police officers often find themselves developing the disease of indifference because they are exhausted or drained by the evil they continually see in the world. The ironic part is that the cure for indifference is to begin seeing people as people – treating the person. When we do this, we are awakened by the humanity that exists in the world and the more energized we become.
I’ve heard people speak about keeping a professional distance and I understand that concept. However, I believe that transference is inevitable. Transference is the belief that every human being has an effect on another. Police officers especially need to understand that that they can strengthen or diminish the life around them through their demeanor and their attitude. We all have the power to affect others and we may even affect those we don’t know at all.
It is important that we all understand the power of transference and how it can be used for good or for evil. If we remember that our encounters are an opportunity to connect with another human being, we might change the way we see our place in this world. We might not feel so powerless or indifferent.
When addressing the Board, Patch Adams tells his colleagues to learn from those people around them who are, “not dead from the heart up”.
I suggest the same for all of us. Cultivate relationships with those people who are passionate and compassionate because those traits are contagious. I know it's not easy, but anything worth doing never is.
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