I have often caught myself reminiscing on the previous interactions I have had with the many people in my life. I think about why certain interactions were positive, and why others were negative in the way they unfolded. Personally, I like to look at life through the lens of lessons learned versus feelings of guilt and regret. When I think in the above manner, I give myself the opportunity to reflect on a specific situation based on the time and place in which it occurred. On most occasions, I find that I am 100% happy with how I dealt with the situation, and the outcome. Once in a while, I find that although a situation was dealt with and put to rest, the outcome could have been a lot more favorable. Some of the variables affecting any given situation are your mindset, the mindset of the person you are dealing with, as well as the timing and context in which the situation is taking place. More often than not, we dismiss or judge the situation at hand on a literal level, based on experiences and emotions from our past.
Where Do You Stand?
Depending on where you are in your life, and what your mindset is, you will find that you’re not as objective and impartial as you should be. Take a second to take inventory of your life, and think about personal incidents that stand out to you. Hone in on a few events where you thought you knew what was happening in the moment, and you reacted in a fashion you felt was commensurate with the situation. After-the-fact, you were provided background information that shed light on why that situation unfolded in the manner it did, bringing you an immediate sense of guilt or upset. You felt the guilt because in your mind, had you known the background information as the situation unfolded but were instead provided after-the-fact, you may have reacted in a different manner. Ring any bells? Why do you think you reacted to the situation in that way?
The truth is, we are very much inside of our own heads and our emotions. We are much more invested in feeling good for ourselves, than doing good by others. Sometimes the feel good/do good dynamic is an automatic subconscious/unconscious response, based on our biochemical system’s desire to keep us mentally, emotionally, and physically “safe”. Other times, we actively seek to consciously put others down because we feel like our needs aren’t being met, and if that’s the case, then why focus on the needs of other’s right? Regardless of the level of consciousness from which these responses stem, the responses in themselves can, and have been shown to be problematic especially coupled with unchecked emotions.
A Personal Note
As a kid, my father used to joke around, telling me that I should become a lawyer. I had a knack for asking a lot of questions, and arguing pretty much about everything, even when I was wrong. Whereas at times my father took the constant questioning and arguing as a sign of lack of respect for authority, I took it as genuine curiosity and the desire to play devil’s advocate. Neither of us knew it then, but as I matured over the years, I began to realize that my constant questioning and argumentativeness stemmed from the deep desire for understanding. I wanted to understand why things were the way they were, and I wanted to understand why people acted in the fashion they did. I began to see that although people as a whole may act similarly, the intentions and motivations behind their actions and mindset may differ. It’s no different than looking at a glass filled halfway with water, or two juveniles stealing clothing items from a retail store. Based on your life experiences and mindset, you may view the glass as half empty, whereas I view the glass as half full. One juvenile may be stealing clothing items because he/she is homeless, and truly only has the shirt on his/her back, whereas the other may be stealing because he/she is a serial thief who could care less about following the law.
Throughout my training and experience in the military and in law enforcement, the above mindset of understanding was further solidified. In the military, the mindset was framed from the perspective of actually getting to know the people you work with, not just at a professional level but also at a personal level. By getting to know someone at a personal level, you are getting to know their story, their experiences, and how they think. Law enforcement further complemented what I learned in the military. My mindset was framed from the perspective of realizing that when we interact with the general public, it’s more often than not at a difficult time in their lives. Even though as a law enforcement officer I am constantly exposed to varying degrees of the general public’s problems on a daily basis, the person I am interacting with may have only had one or two contacts with law enforcement in their entire lifetime. Because of the above described dynamic, it was important to learn to have impartial discernment. Essentially, being able to hit the reset button and start from a clean slate with every contact I have with the general public, in order to deal with the situation in an objective manner.
I need to have the ability to be consciously ignorant of all past emotions and incidents experienced on the job and in my personal life. I need to focus and hone in on the specific needs of the victim I am currently speaking to, regardless of the amount of times I’ve dealt with him/her. For example, throughout my shift I may have dealt with the victim of a violent crime (i.e. shooting, stabbing, sexual assault, etc.), then with a victim whose vehicle was stolen, and then with a mother whose teenage son/daughter just overdosed on an illicit drug and was found deceased. All of the above described calls for service may have happened within a four-six hour time-frame. Regardless of my past experiences or emotions, it’s imperative that I look at the situation in its specific time and context, in order to figure out why it happened. The latter is true for both the alleged criminal and the victim. Finding out the why behind someone’s behavior, coupled with the facts of the specific incident being investigated, as well as the pattern of behavior and criminal history of the person being investigated, all come together in order to figure out the punitive action that will be taken in a court of law. For perspective, I’ll explain it in the following manner: The violent crime may have been committed in self-defense or with the intent to cause harm. The stolen vehicle may have been committed by a kid who wanted a joy ride, versus a criminal who needed a getaway vehicle from a bank robbery. The teenager who overdosed may have been dealing with addiction problems stemming from childhood trauma, versus possessing drugs for personal use, or with the intent to sell them to another person.
Call to Action
The point is that what you are exposed to, your experiences, and your mindset can easily shape your perception of the world and the emotions that accompany that perception. Regardless of whether you look at an incident through the eyes of your profession, or through the eyes of your personal life, it comes down to the same thing: 1) A situation needs to first be looked at based on facts and not on emotions; 2) One needs to understand the specific time and context in which it took place; 3) One needs to know the motivation and intentions behind a person’s actions. The totality of the latter three will then enable you to get a clear picture of what happened, and how you should proceed in thought, emotion, and actions moving forward from there.
If you do not allow yourself to detach mentally and emotionally from a situation, you will never gain the ability to have impartial discernment, and therefore a true understanding of the situation at hand. You’ll never learn to be able to hit the reset button in order to look at a situation factually for what it is, versus what you’re perceiving it to be. Reaching a state of impartial discernment is not easy, especially when facts prove that you are the one that is in the wrong. If you can’t look at yourself impartially, how can you look at someone else impartially? The answer is that you can’t. So what can you do to develop the ability to detach from a situation, and develop impartial discernment?
Take Impartial Inventory of Yourself
Impartiality and objectivity starts at home, which in this case means within yourself! Growth in all aspects of your life start with you taking control of it. Progress beats perfection, and in the game of life if you’re not progressing towards a better future, your digressing to the mindset, actions, and environments that will keep you down indefinitely. I challenge you to tell all of your closest friends and family (people you love, trust, and will not lie to you), that you are on a personal growth journey, and that you’re in need of their help. Ask all of them to be brutally honest, and provide you with two specific areas in your life where you need to improve, and one area where you are shining. Take the feedback, and develop a plan you will act on, in order to begin to better yourself. It’s imperative that you seek feedback from multiple sources. That will increase the objectivity of the feedback being provided, it will show a pattern of your behavior if one exists, and it’ll also shed light in things you’re unwilling to see about yourself. Supplement the above suggestion with books, podcasts, and personal growth and development in-person or on-line seminars you can find in your region via Google. Don’t know where to start? Check out some of my book and podcast recommendations here! Don’t get discouraged if you fail in the short term. Nothing worth having is achieved overnight!
First Seek to Understand, then to be Understood
In the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey’s fifth habit was to “First Seek to Understand, then to be Understood”. The world does not revolve around you. Many in today’s society do not realize the latter, and as such we have lost the basic tenets of vicarious understanding and active listening. We are much more focused on telling someone off and making ourselves feel good, versus actually conversing with the intent to find viable solutions to our problems. Listen with the desire to understand what is being said, and not to formulate a reply. You don’t have to agree with everyone 100% of the time. In fact, I believe that so long as differences are ethical, moral, and legal, they should be displayed and celebrated as a way to diversify culture and expand our knowledge. That being said, if you are not open to seeing the world vicariously through the eyes of another, if you’re not open to understanding the world through the mind, body, and spirit of another, then you will never live a fulfilled life. If you can’t validate the essence of another being because of your personal feelings, thoughts, and perceptions, you’ll never be able to establish the foundation of emotional sobriety needed to build impartiality. You need to acknowledge that, which you seek to change!
Don’t Take Things Personal
Deep down inside, regardless of who you are and where you come from, we all have an innate desire to feel wanted, loved, validated and secure. If anything or anyone threatens any of the latter, our humanity takes over, and our unchecked emotions can potentially lead us down a path of destructive behaviors. Realize that what you say, and how you act, can lead another human being filled with the same passionate emotions that you have, to say and act in a way that makes you feel attacked as well. While it’s easier said than done, focus on not taking things personal. Everyone deals with the stress, traumas, and problems of life in different ways. None of us are perfect, and we are all trying to deal with life, in whatever way we feel will be conducive to venting efficiently, solving the problem, or both. Learning proper emotional intelligence, and paying it forward to those who have never been exposed to it, is an effective means of solving problems and developing impartial discernment.
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