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December 20, 2013
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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

2013 in Review: Keeping our cynical side at bay at year's end

Here are a few suggestions for staying optimistic during the often-difficult season of “happy” holidays and New Year’s resolutions

We’re wrapping up another year. It’s easy to let our cynicism get the better of us during the holidays, and 2013 is no different from years past. While everyone else is filled with good cheer and warmth toward their fellow man, we seem to be operating in a parallel universe of evil and tragedy. 

In our world, the department store Santa is groping toddlers, parents are abusing their kids and dealing meth instead of shopping for toys, families are drinking and fighting, criminals are stealing from old people and charities, and the list goes on. Add to all this the sad truth that December and January tend to be two of the most deadly months for American cops and it’s no wonder police officers — and other law enforcement personnel — get cynical! 

Scientifically, we know that maintaining optimism is essential to our ability to win on the street. So how do we stay optimistic during the often-difficult season of holidays and new calendars? Here are a few suggestions — add your own in the comments area below.

Recognize the Dilemma
Remember, the first step in most treatment programs is admitting there is a problem. Ask your family and friends “Am I cynical?” And really listen to their answers. 

There was a time in my life — after too many years working narcotics and juvenile crime — when I was pretty sure that everyone I knew was a drug-dealing child molester. It took the not-so-gentle intervention of my immediate family to get me to take a closer look at my lousy outlook on humanity.

Your family and close friends can be a great barometer for how you’re viewing the world around you; don’t discount their opinions and observations. 

Do Something for Others Off Duty
I can hear you ask, “Are you kidding me? My whole job is doing things for other people.” 

Exactly. That’s why a couple of off duty “random acts of kindness: are so important. Reach out to an old friend whom you’ve lost touch with, go visit your elderly aunt in the nursing home, drop off a bag of puppy food at the humane society, put a twenty in the Salvation Army bucket, shovel the neighbor’s driveway. 

A non-work-related good deed or two may help you regain that holiday spirit. 

Have Some Fun at Work
One of the reasons we’re cops is because we enjoy it. But colder weather, shorter days and longer shifts, combined with holiday stressors, can take some of the fun out of it, so be proactive about having a little on-duty fun. How about drawing names for a shift gift exchange? 

Set a price limit and declare a theme, like health and fitness (workout DVDs, a certificate to try CrossFit, or a $10 gift card to the local smoothie bar), officer safety (a police-related magazine, a book on resiliency, or an extra box of off-duty ammo) or humor (a classic police comedy DVD or a copy of the new book “Police Limit: The First Cluster” [http://goo.gl/ZVRUyr] by PoliceOne’s own Garey McKee [http://www.policeone.com/columnists/police-limit-comic/]).

Keep the booze and fattening goodies off the wish list and make your gifts healthy and positive. Exchange presents during roll call. Start with the old timers and make the rookies wait until last. A bit of silliness combined with healthy generosity can help keep your cynical side at bay. 

Take Care Physically
Cops rarely get enough sleep, and during the holidays it can sometimes get worse. From Thanksgiving Day to well after New Year’s Day, we often take advantage of seasonal side jobs and extra shifts. 

The money is good, but the lack of rest certainly isn’t. Many people also take a couple of weeks off from their workout routine and healthy eating during the height of the holiday season — but frankly, that’s the last thing you should consider doing. 

You’re more likely to be surly and cynical if you’re not at your best physically, so try to get some rest, limit the junk food and sweet treats, get enough physical activity, and go easy on the off duty alcohol consumption. 

The mind-body connection is essential to your officer safety, and it’s also essential to your mental health. 

Holiday Family Dynamics
We’re used to the increase in family tension in the homes of our citizens, but what about in our own homes? 

We often have the same issues as everyone else: deadbeat in-laws, childhood sibling grievances resurrected, a few too many beers, and so on. Dealing with everyone else’s domestic dilemmas at work and then coming home to our own can be incredibly disheartening. What’s the answer? 

Be realistic about how much change you and your family can handle during the holidays. Talk to your spouse or partner and see if there are things you can agree on to make the season less tense, like having your in-laws stay at a local bed-and-breakfast instead of at your house. Let go of your anger and make a pact with your little brother to stop arguing about politics — start a new tradition of recalling fun childhood shenanigans instead. Remember, you can’t control others, but you can control how you react. 

Learning to “let it go” and practice forgiveness is one of the best ways to avoid holiday cynicism. 

Check Your Spirit
We’re all familiar with the quote commonly attributed to George Orwell, “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” 

It’s true that most of our citizens (and many of our friends and family) are largely oblivious to crime, sadness and evil all around them. See that as a good thing. It’s because of people like you that others can view the world (or at least their neighborhood) as a relatively safe sanctuary. 

Take great pride in that. Yes, we are “rough men” (and women) ready to do whatever it takes to keep ourselves, each other, and our communities safe — that’s what makes us part of a warrior class of people who make the choice to continue to serve and sacrifice. 

And when you’re feeling a bit too cynical, remember another quote: “Blessed be the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” 

Make it a safe holiday season, my friends. I, for one, am incredibly grateful for all of you. 


About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter





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