The Sunday morning after the Colorado theater shooting, I had the rare opportunity of enjoying a day off which fell on a Sunday. A ritual of mine is to attend church with my family. I was eager to attend this day as a woman priest who is a friend of mine was preaching for our vacationing clergy.
Chris was telling the story of the sheep, shepherds and sheepdogs. She was reminding us of the role of a sheepdog to guide the herd of sheep and how we all have a responsibility to look out for each other. There was no mention of the current events in her sermon.
At the time of peace, Chris came over to me to hug me. She whispered in my ear that it is nice to hug you without the guns in your hands. The previous Wednesday, I ran into Chris behind my police station as I was assisting our mechanic remove a shotgun and a patrol rifle from a disabled cruiser to be secured inside the station. It’s all about timing in life and unfortunately Chris and I did not get a change for a friendly hug that day. One could say my hands were full at that moment.
After the service, I had coffee with several friends including Chris. Everyone wants to know in a kind but awkward way what’s going on in our community. They want to hear that life is Utopia and sometimes I have to adjust my comments to minimize the shock and awe factor. Calling it “sugar coating” the truth or allowing my friends to enjoy their peaceful existence in their own world, I have to edit the reality of police work to my audience. Some people want the raw and powerful truth that is the reality of police work, and others want to feel safe believing in their minds that the world is safe.
Chris and I had a moment to share on her sermon and I brought to her attention the story by Lt. Col. David Grossman on the role of… the Sheepdog which is the reality law enforcement officer’s and our military personnel face daily. I would like to share a version of his story:
Lt. Col. David Grossman from: The Bulletproof Mind
“One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: ‘Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident…Then there are the wolves,’ the old war veteran said, ‘and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.’ Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial…Then there are sheepdogs,’ he went on, ‘and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.’
Let me expand on this old soldier’s excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If a person has the capacity for violence and no empathy for their fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath–a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.” Until the wolf shows up… Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.
Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that sheepdogs are funny critters: they are always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.
Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, ‘Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes.’ The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, ‘Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference.’ When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warrior-hood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.
While there is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, he does have one real advantage — only one. He is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.”
You and I protect the people who are our family, friends and our community members. The reality of the Colorado tragedy is we focus on it while it is news but society goes back to Utopia. As an example, think about 9/11, everyone bitches about security at the airports but the reality is not many people appreciate the purpose of these screenings. It is one phase of protecting people from evil criminals. People don’t realize that every day the system does work, we catch people who want to hurt the innocent and destroy our way of life.
You and I know what is threatening our communities today. It is the thousands of people with untreated mental illness who we deal with every day. A movement about 40 years ago released people who lived within our psychiatric hospitals back into the communities for a better life. We know that the homeless population exists within our communities, bizarre violence has occurred throughout the world and budgets to fund the community based mental health services have continued to be reduced. When all else fails, we the Honorable Profession are dealing with this reality and in some cases the outcomes are tragic.
We are the Sheepdogs who are members of this Honorable Profession of law enforcement. We are part of the group of warriors, like our military, that protect the flock and endure their misunderstanding of danger and reality of life.
In order to effectively serve as “sheepdogs” we must maintain the highest level of wellness. As law enforcement professionals we must be physically fit, mentally prepared and constantly thinking “if this happens-I will do this”.
To my our brothers and sisters in Aurora, Colorado I want to thank you for demonstrating the courage and selflessness of the Sheepdog when you swiftly captured that mentally sick wolf. The strength and compassion you gave the victims and their families was priceless.
REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!
Stay safe and be well!
Sgt. St.Hilaire is a wellness contributor to CopsAlive. He is a police officer in a Metro west suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a volunteer police peer assistant for a regional CISM team. You can contact him by confidential email by CLICKING HERE
Follow Mark on Twitter: @NPD3306 or on LinkedIn.
Sgt. St.Hilaire does not receive any compensation or consideration for products, training or items he mentions in his articles.
Photo Credit: “Mutton” by Betsy Weber as Creative Commons from Flickr.com
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As law enforcement professionals we must be physically fit, mentally prepared and be constantly maintaining our highest level of wellness.