Gratitude is a Cop’s most Powerful Tool

” At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

John F. Kennedy expressed it eloquently when he said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Gratitude is a powerful tool.  I used it so many times as a hostage negotiator when I was dealing with… someone who was in crisis or threatening suicide.  In most cases what worked to resolve the crisis, if even temporarily, was to get the person to truly understand what they had to be thankful for.  Sometimes it was their family or kids, sometimes pets and many times just life itself.  Life is filled with ups and downs and no amount of wishing we can do will change that.  Our task in life is to learn how to ride those peaks and valleys successfully and I don’t think any group understands that better then police officers.  As cops we have to wear many hats.  We have to be social workers and ministers, counselors and teachers.  Most of the time, though, we have to be leaders.  We lead the people of our communities to better lives and better behaviors.

If the true goal of law enforcement is really the prevention of crime then maybe we need to spend more time with the people we meet and have a small bit of influence upon, and work toward, making them the best people they can be so that we as police officers don’t have to work with them again in an enforcement capacity.

I remember a young tagging graffiti artist who was giving the people of my patrol beat fits.  We tried Neighborhood Watch and even did some nighttime steak outs but couldn’t catch anyone.  Finally through the neighborhood back channels I discovered who he was and started talking to him.  I didn’t have enough information to arrest him and felt that I might be better able to turn the tide of his destruction if I was able to refocus his “talents’ elsewhere.  I made a point of “checking in” with him every day.  I would see him in his neighborhood, at school and anywhere else I could find him.  I’m sure I was a real “pain” for him, but he started talking with me.  I helped him through some challenging times with his parents and through one with the school principal.  We didn’t talk directly about his crimes but we focused upon positive solutions for his neighborhood.  We realized that we had a common goal of wanting a place for taggers and graffiti artists to do their work that didn’t destroy other people’s property.  He became an ally with me in a project to develop a citywide art mural park.  Even though we never realized that dream, the graffiti in and around his neighborhood stopped and my citizens were a lot happier.  I that case I never made an arrest but I did make a difference.

Sometimes the best way for us to teach others to successfully navigate their lives is to focus upon what they are grateful for.  The best way to understand that tool and be able to teach it to others is to learn it well ourselves.

I found an interesting article by Elizibeth Harrell entitled “Develop an Attitude of Gratitude”.  Check it out.  Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S. and to all the rest of you, thank you for reading CopsAlive!

CLICK HERE to download a PDF worksheet from CopsAlive on the Power of Gratitude.

Just for fun you might “Do the Gratitude Dance”.  Don’t worry, nobody’s watching!

Wisdom Quotes:
Albert Schweitzer:
The Gratitude Dance: Check out the GratiDudes from Junior Attractors on their YouTube Channel
or visit
Abundance & Happiness:
An Experiment in Gratitude:
Other Blog Posts About Gratitude:
Zen Habits:
Spirituality & Practice:
Gratitude a How-To Guide:—A-How-To-Guide&id=41925
Develop An Attitude of Gratitude:

Photo Credit:
Photo: “The Legend of Ship Bottom” by Larry as Creative Commons on  Check out the link.  Larry describes the Legend of Ship Bottom and you can find out what that has to do with Gratitude, or visit:

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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