Are you smarter than a five-year-old?

Submitted by:
Joel Shults, PoliceOne Columnist


It was the first Christmas in their new apartment in the city. Taking up too much space in the small living room it stood in the corner partially covering the bookshelf. But with a preschooler in the house Christmas has to be big so the full sized tree felt just right. Although not like the attic full of decorations from decades of Christmases at Gramma’s and Grampa’s house, there was a box of trinkets in the closet full enough to light up the little girl’s eyes.

With cookies and cocoa nearby and an iPod full of carols on speaker, the artful process of decorating the tree began. The little girl packed the branches in front of her with all the pretty things she could find and pronounced it finished. 

And so the tree stood, bare branches everywhere but the space within the grasp and vision of the child.

Someday this little girl may be a police officer, police trainer, or police administrator. Hopefully somewhere along the way she’ll learn to understand that there are things that she can’t see that are still important and part of the picture. She’ll learn to step back, ask others how things look to them, and see things from different angles. But for now, at barely five, her world, her thoughts, and her picture is everybody’s world.

Not everyone leaves that stage of thinking. What’s your perspective? Can you see what others see or only what is in front of you? Is your way the only way?  Is your experience the only experience to bring to bear on a problem? Maturity doesn’t only make us smarter and taller. It also makes us realize there is more to the world than meets our own eyes.

This is the Perspective Tree. (PoliceOne Image)

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

His latest book The Badge and the Brain is available at

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

Contact Joel Shults

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