Alex Teach Image
I dreamed of being in a huge room, a warehouse, with a ceiling made of thousands and thousands of doors stretching beyond my sight in all directions, and I was left to stare up at them. It was clear I was being dared to choose a handle and turn it.
I was the subconscious author of this scene, so in the dream I knew exactly what this represented: It was about the random choices we make in a life of random choices, with no way to know where each portal would lead. Sure, they looked different. Some doors flat, some six panel, others with paint peeling to the extent I couldn’t determine their design…but as I would move forward (upward) and reach for a random door handle, I knew it made no difference which one I picked. There was work to be done on the other side of that door no matter which I chose, and I was here to do it.
The dream itself didn’t make me think about the differences between what I consider the two primary kinds of cops, but the disinterest in choices did.
By two kinds, let me clarify because there are clearly dozens of different types. It’s a strength of the profession because it allows specialization in different areas of the law. Narcs, traffic cops, robbery squads—totally different personalities unified only by a common patch, a common badge. No, I’m referring to the staple of the profession: Uniformed street cops.
Not the transient ones driven by ego, or the ones I consider “tourists” who always wanted to be cops but never thought they could until a recruiter actually returned a call…or the ones that simply couldn’t find a better job with benefits. I mean the ones committed to doing the job but for two different reasons (whether they know it or not). This difference is subtle in terms of actual performance and success, but the difference is very real when put under a microscope.
Put simply, there are those that feel they can “make a difference,” if only for one person or one small group. They are aware this is unsustainable, but they continue anyway. They are driven by empathy, and the other parts of their lives reflect this, i.e. their hobbies, their attachments.
Then there are those that simply feel it’s their duty to serve the greater good, rather than the individual. Not out of empathy though, but because it’s their identity.
Instead of empathy, they are driven by anger at attempts to break down our system, and unlike the first group who are driven by self-satisfaction, this one is driven by contempt…not for their customers, mind you, but because they are unable to stop serving, because it’s their nature to do so. Their mission. The contempt is for those that go against order, and sure, occasionally against themselves for being unable to resist this. And as such, they don’t have many hobbies and even fewer attachments.
While the former may sound superior, think on it a bit. There is a difference, and while I can assure you both are noble people, I have found that whether driven by empathy to make a difference or duty, fueled by anger or disgust, disgust tends to get problems solved rather than delayed. It’s pure energy, a directness that I can appreciate. Solving two problems in the time it takes someone else to solve one because of the delay of needing to make someone feel better about themselves in the process—well, color me overly pragmatic, but beat cops are charged with solving problems, not engendering self-esteem.
I consider these differences, and also have to wonder: Which would outlast the other? Empathy or rage? Concern or anger? Decades of raw feelings, or gritty duty? And the answer is always obvious.
I think I started out on empathy, on concern, but I’ve found that it’s duty that carries me forward, and sadly, borderline contempt that gives me energy when all else fails, as opposed to “boundless optimism.” That train has long since left the station, kiddies, pushed forward by people that don’t like to watch “scary movies” yet expect cops to live a real-life one for 30 years and keep a polite smile the whole time.
…I think back to the dream, and approach a door as I have done so many times before during my waking hours, and I begin to knock, then reach for the handle. Another problem waiting to be solved.