Ron AveryThe PoliceOne Firearms Corner
with Ron Avery

The warrior and the merchant: Define who you are

Warrior! The word has caught on in everyday speech and has been applied to sports figures, articles of clothing, martial artists, military personnel, cops, and even various figures involved in peaceful activities. But, what is a warrior?

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Warrior: a man engaged or experienced in warfare; broadly: a person engaged in some struggle or conflict.

I believe that almost all cops, military personnel, and others would agree that we are definitely engaged in a struggle — both to maintain our nation and societal order and to actively suppress criminal and terrorist activities that threaten that order. Having established that, we next need to define our mission.  

For most agencies, the words “Protect and Serve” are somewhere in a well-written mission statement. They define what we do.

• To Serve: To give service to or meet the needs of others
• To Protect: To keep others from harm.

Again, definitions that broadly define what we are supposed to do. Why then, is there such a disparity of opinions with regard to mindset and what we should be doing with regard to mission, training, and everyday activities?

Belief Systems and Values
To begin, I offer the following questions for you to ponder:

• For what or whom are you willing to fight, risk your life, and, if necessary, die?
• Is it fair to ask you to do that if you’re a cop who is charged with protecting and serving your community?
• Do you consider your status as a police officer a job or a calling?
• Is this a 24/7 commitment or an 8-12 hour shift commitment?
• When you swore your oath as a law enforcement officer to uphold, defend, and protect the constitution and the laws of your state, was it conditional in your mind or was this an absolute act in terms of service?
• How do you interpret the word ‘duty’?
• Is it fair to ask you do the above if you are off duty, don’t have any family with you, and you have your tools with you?
• Is it fair to ask you to carry your tools with you off duty even if you are not being paid to do so?
• Can we define a code of ethics, values and belief systems that we should be following?

Have you ever said or done the following:

• They don’t pay me enough to do this ______!
• My number one priority is to go home every night.
• Recited the police officers creed, “never get wet, never go hungry.”
• I’m not going to train on my day off unless they pay me to do it and give me free ammo...
• Shown up second or third on a call so you didn’t have to do the report?
• Avoided or held back on a call or failed to act because it was either a nuisance to you or you were afraid?
• Beat the crap out of someone during an arrest because “they deserved it”?
• Decided that something wasn’t worth doing because no one appreciates your efforts anyway?
• Put down a fellow officer because they pay for training on their own time and their own dime?
• Put down a rookie for being “too gung ho” about doing what he perceives to be his job. (Not talking about doing bad things here, just the attitude of total commitment).

Rank these in terms of Value to you:

• Country
• Family
• Friends
• Fellow officers
• Citizens
• Yourself

There is no judgment on my part in the above questions or statements. They are designed to help you clarify who you are and where you are heading. They are based on my own observations and experiences over the last 30 years, both as an officer and as a professional trainer.

Altruistic Behavior
There is a type of behavior that is manifested among those who serve selflessly which is called “altruistic behavior.”

From Wikipedia, we have the following explanation:

Altruism is selfless concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness. Altruism can be distinguished from feelings of loyalty and duty. Altruism focuses on a motivation to help others or a want to do good without reward, while duty focuses on a moral obligation towards a specific individual, a specific organization (for example, a government), or an abstract concept (for example, patriotism etc). Some individuals may feel both altruism and duty, while others may not. Pure altruism is giving without regard to reward or the benefits of recognition and need.

Pay particular attention to this behavior as it is fundamentally different from doing your duty and defines the differences in beliefs and values in individuals.

On a personal note, I believe that altruistic behavior represents the highest expression of warrior virtue. I also believe that society feels the same and that is why altruistic behavior is considered a virtue.

Enter, the Merchant
Again we refer to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a “merchant” is “One whose occupation is the wholesale purchase and retail sale of goods or services for profit. This many also include barter where money is not exchanged but a profit or equal value is made in terms of value.”

As one progresses in a career, there is a tendency to get what I call “creeping cynicism.” You realize that many people don’t really appreciate what you do, they just put up with you. Many don’t like you. You may feel that you are at odds with your administration or with your fellow officers. You burn out a bit; maybe a lot. You start to lose your enthusiasm for the job. Maybe your faith in humanity or doing the right thing is being eroded.

You gradually start to slip into the “merchant mentality.” As you go about your job, you subconsciously start to weigh risk versus reward or benefits versus hazards. You may become unwilling to give more of yourself because you feel that you’ve given enough or that people are asking too much of you. You may have some resentment when the department or your trainers ask you to train without compensation to you.

A question starts to intrude on your thought processes: “What’s in it for me?”

Many times, administration tends to overpromise what the department can reasonably do and stress out officers with increasing workloads with no increase of pay or benefits.

Service is a Voluntary Commitment, Duty is Not
I will not speak for others when I define my own values and beliefs. I also do not put myself above others or consider myself morally superior when I do speak out.

I think it is helpful to clarify your values and beliefs and prioritize them. Then you can make clear choices to better negotiate the path you choose in life. You can also determine your own levels of altruism, duty etc. and if cynicism is creeping into your life and undermining your values.

For me, being a warrior is a 24/7 commitment. This is my choice and my belief. It is independent of the job or the affiliations I may have. It colors my decisions on what I do, what I wear, how, when, and with what I choose to arm myself, as well as how (and how often) I train.

I train continuously. I try to carry what I consider to be an adequate firearm and sufficient ammunition with me at all times.

Though I would like others to voluntarily join with me in this belief, I cannot hold them to this voluntary standard. Again, this is altruistic behavior vs. the obligation of doing one’s duty. If they are doing their sworn duty while in uniform, that is what they are being paid to do and I cannot ask them to do more than they are willing to give.

Therefore, I also choose not to put myself on a higher moral plane or be disparaging of them if they do not choose to follow the standards I impose on myself.

To protect and serve means to put others needs ahead of my own self. I do not expect any reward for this service. If I could find a means of being paid elsewhere, I would protect and serve without pay. My sworn duty — when I was a police officer — was to uphold the constitution and the laws of my state, county, city, etc. It was to enforce the law, preserve the public order, and protect the citizens of my community.

To me, this means at any given moment of crisis, when life and death is on the line, my country and the lives of citizens or fellow officers have more worth than my own. This “gets me through the door.” Hopefully my skills will get me back out again. A sense of obligation to duty will also get one “through the door.” A merchant mentality will hesitate, hold back, and be indecisive.

These beliefs and values are not conditional or transactional on my part; they are absolute and still are to this day. When I train law enforcement and military in my academy, it is the needs of the citizens they protect as well as well as their own that I keep in mind and is why I will never lower the bar and let someone get through who cannot perform to standard.

One may talk about “warrior values” or “warrior beliefs.” Fundamentally, a warrior serves his country or his community, not just himself. What should you expect to receive in return for your service? If you are driven by altruistic behavior, you expect nothing. The reward is from the service that you gave. If you are driven by a sense of duty, you feel obligated to do your duty. You may only feel obligated to do so while you are being paid to do so. That is most certainly a choice.

Though we do need to make a living and most officers are paid to do the job. A warrior is expected to give service, risk life and limb, and do battle for his community and peers ...with not even a “thank you” in return most of the time.

For those driven by an altruistic drive, this is all part of the job. They get their reward from doing the service and don’t expect anything in return. This is directly at odds with the merchant mentality of getting more than you give or bartering for equal compensation for your acts.

For those driven by a sense of duty, it is also part of the job but you may feel that you are giving more than you are getting in return at times.

If you feel the need to be appreciated or thanked all of the time for what you do — or feel you “don’t get paid enough to do this _____”  — then you are sliding into the merchant mentality. 

It is helpful to separate your identity and the associated values as a warrior from your job at times. You train and you risk your life when necessary because YOU CHOOSE to do it, because that is what you believe in and what you value. This is not a merchant transaction where you feel you should be compensated in equal measure to the risks involved. You may never go in a room and take on a gunman if you value your life more than you value doing your duty or protecting another person, no matter what your technical skill level may be.

I’ve seen officers who look good in training but freeze up when confronted with their own death. It is total commitment to the values of duty and service that helps move us forward when others may hesitate or fall back.

A warrior serves his country and its citizens, period. It’s not a transaction, it’s not a self-serving commitment. It’s a code of honor that you voluntarily commit to, whether from an altruistic perspective, a sense of duty, or both.

For the leaders, take care of your people, protect them from overwork, shelter them from abuse, set the standards and live by them.

For the warriors, may God bless you and protect you as you go about your duties. Thank you for your service.

For the merchants, heed what I say. I will not judge you, but the people you serve (and serve with) will.

About the author

Ron Avery is President and Director of Training for The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. and Executive Director of the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Tactical Institute - both training institutions dedicated to professional firearms and tactics courses, higher police standards and training and use of force research. Train with Ron Avery. Visit his Course Calendar. Ron is a former police officer with many years of street experience, which he brings into the training environment. He is internationally recognized as a researcher, firearms trainer and world class shooter. His training methodology is currently being used by hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals across the US and internationally. Ron has worked as a consultant and trainer for top level federal agencies, special operations military from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies across the US. He is a weapons and tactics trainer for handgun, carbine, select fire, precision rifle and shotgun, as well as advanced instructor schools, defensive tactics, team skills and tactics, low light tactics, arrest and control and officer survival. Contact Ron Avery
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