By Ed Kelley, Executive Pastor of Bay Area Community Church, Chaplain for INLETS
Mass shootings, drug epidemics, impeachments, scandals, and a general disrespect for long-held traditional institutions have made the United States a nation of cynics. As the Executive Pastor of a very large congregation (7,000 people a month come to Bay Area Community Church), I feel like I’ve observed the way cynicism can infect and damage both personal and professional lives.
For example, if one is lied to constantly, one’s tendency becomes not to believe what anyone says. Police officers run into this all the time, and over time, many come to believe that pretty much no one tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth; there always seems to be an angle, always a motive, never down-to-earth honesty. It can make one skeptical if not cynical.
That said, I would argue that as police officers you MUST NOT let your regular exposure to lying, narcissism, and all the bad things you see on a daily basis INFECT who you are. Cynicism, just like bitterness, can be a personality cancer and ruin your ability to experience true joy and engage in significant relationships.
So, how does one prevent this problem from happening? How do you keep cynicism at bay? Let me tell you four things to keep in mind if you don’t want to be a bitter, cynical person at the end of your life.
The world, theologically, is a fallen place. Mankind is ultimately selfish and typically destructive to itself. What do you expect? Unlike some of the counseling professionals who think mankind is born inherently “good,” the Bible says just the opposite. One doesn’t have to train a two year old to be bad; a toddler knows instinctively how to “be bad” all on their own. It’s in everyone’s nature.
So the first thing is not to let the bad actors surprise you. Most people who grow up to be adult bad guys are that way because their parents and environment led them there. No one teaches people how to be parents. There is no school. So typically people parent how they were parented. I would hazard to guess that people who are the worst in our world, are people who either had neglectful parents or parents who gave them everything on a silver platter. These folks are absolutely everywhere and depending on what kind of parenting they received (which can, in some cases, mitigate our fallen state and one’s propensity to do wrong), bad people are going to pop up in your world. So don’t be shocked, rather…call it job security.
Look for the Exception
Make it a contest. Can you identify one subject per shift who told the truth, was altruistic, or was a pleasure to engage? Sometimes we get cynical in our mindset, making everyone a bad guy. Resist that. On the officer-safety side, officers must assume that everyone is a bad guy, but on the investigative side, see if you can’t find one person who, in that moment, actually spoke some truth and had a good attitude. In other words, don’t focus on JUST the bad guys, take note of the person who may be the exception and let that buoy your sense of humanity. Also, on a side note, let that person know you appreciate their exceptionalism.
Give of Yourself
If an officer, of any ilk, can find an outlet where they are helping someone else in some aspect of life (for example, as a tutor or coach) they tend to see people in a more balanced way and be less cynical in their thinking. Do not withdraw from community and investing in relationships. People matter. You are people. Engage yourself with someone or some organization. It brings one’s attitude in line with what is right.
Look for These Biblical Friends
Everyone needs a Paul, a Timothy, and a Barnabas in their life. For those who are unfamiliar with these Biblical figures, here’s a brief refresher: Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament, was very knowledgeable and served as a mentor to many around him (including Timothy, his protégé). Timothy was Paul’s apprentice—he received Paul’s teachings and came into his own as a result. Find a Paul who is older and wiser than you. Meet with them and try to learn what they know. Have them pour their wisdom into your life, and then find a young Timothy to whom you can pass along what you’ve learned; someone you can invest in. Neither Paul nor Timothy may be long-term, but for a season of time everyone needs a Paul and a Timothy to engage.
Then there is Barnabas. The Bible calls him the “son of encouragement.” I think Pauls are essential and Timothys are important—but to have someone by your side like Barnabas can be a real game-changer. Someone who isn’t impressed by you, but just wants to be “in your corner” is a must if you’re going to avoid cynicism. Your Barnabas is someone you can really talk with, and someone who is a good sounding board. They’re someone you can call for perspective and emotional support in any situation. Tell them to watch for signs of creeping cynical thinking in your speech and attitude; they’ll really help if they’re any good at encouragement.
Finding good friends like Paul, Timothy and Barnabas are essential in the long run of your life. It may take a while to find these people, but it’s so worth it if you can. If you can find them and maintain perspective, awareness, and work to give of yourself, you are much more likely to stay emotionally healthy, be more balanced, and be a less cynical person. And that’s something the world needs more of.
About the Author: Ed Kelley has been a pastor for 35 years and is currently working as the Executive Pastor of the Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, Maryland. As part of his ministry, he has been working with law enforcement officers for the last 30 years and is the Chaplain for the last four years with INLETS. If you have questions about life or the Christian worldview, feel free to contact him at Ed.Kelley@bayareacc.org.