Saturday, March 11, 2006

Beyond Distrust

I have been thinking lately about policemen. All cultures have people who are drawn to this sort of work, for good or ill. The more honest and free a culture the more likely these people will be restrained. Conversely the more dictatorial a culture, the more likely they will be unrestrained and overtly brutal.
What I think about is that I cannot remember a single encounter with a policeman that was pleasant. Most of these encounters over the years have been traffic stops. It is hard to live in the city and not be stopped occasionally, if only for a broken tail light. The thing is, it is never, “I’m sorry sir, I need to tell you that your tail light is out.” No it is always an excuse to check you over. And you can almost feel the air of suppressed contempt or distrust.
I have been thinking a lot about this recently and wondering if there is anything that could be done to change this philosophy. I am a normal person, I do the right thing and so on. It is annoying to be seen as a potential criminal with every minor encounter.
There is a young man in my apartment building whom I have known since he was 10. He has recently joined the NYPD and already I see the change taking place in him. He rarely speaks now, just looks at you and kind of grunts. He seems to view everything with suspicion and is slowly losing touch with normal people. It is sad to watch.
I am beginning to think of this sort of attitude as an extreme example of the fundamental emotion that is so prevalent in the world’s culture, distrust. Distrust is right up there with disappointment as a basic emotion we deal with constantly. I suppose it would stand to reason that those who have the illusion of power, while knowing they must follow certain rules, would also fall victim to distrust. Perhaps more than most. After all they are constantly running into all sorts of extremes and are also constantly describing these extremes to one another. The problem is though that most people, by far the majority, do not fall into the extreme category.
If our world wide culture is typically responsive emotionally to distrust, whatever can we do to change this? Smile at policemen? Maybe. Or maybe the problem is how we insulate ourselves within our tiny little world of friends who share our basic attitudes and how we are so very reluctant to step outside. See if you can step out of that world and encounter someone, at their level, that you would not normally encounter. Policemen have a very limited world view but then I suspect so do we all. It seems that I am constantly reminding myself, and others, to look beyond what we think should be real. We all tend to think that others share our basic viewpoints and have trouble understanding why someone would not, even when it is obvious that they do not. Many conversations begin with, “Why can’t they see………..?” Do you suppose the reverse is true as well? That these people who cannot see are saying the same of you?
What is hopeful is that we notice these apparent aberrations and think about them. Condemning behavior we find difficult may not be as powerful as simply noticing and perhaps thinking how we can respond in a manner that will ease that constant sense of disappointment and distrust. Most of the time I think of the correct response too late, long after the fact. Very occasionally the most perfect response is right there, in the moment. Eventually, with constant attention, I hope to catch up with my more perfect responses and do the right thing in the moment more of the time.
It may be that this noticing of distrust, disappointment, resentment, despair and all the other emotions that we seem to wallow in is our opportunity to go beyond – if only we can see the possible or – as my teacher would say – have the point of view of the soaring eagle. This does not mean looking down upon all of the little people and feeling superior. It means seeing, as much as possible, how all things, beings, emotions, etc., interconnect and then doing our best to embrace all while continuing to maintain our basic dignity.

Many Blessings, Musawwir


waterlines said...

Right in line with where I am today - Thank you!

Qalbi said...

I get to work with police now and again, because I work with probationers and parolees. I like getting to know those who are the witnesses to the streets of our society. I often think of how sheiks of old collected seemingly errant or wild young men and turned them into guardians and knights of the cities. People often say disparagingly that cops and robbers are cut of the same cloth - and leave out that that the cops have embraced a code. It's true that they are often very difficult and so we can then wonder where in the code that fits, or are we seeing the result of an inherent rigidity? I also think of how it must be for them to be something like a soldier, except that the 'war zone' is the neighborhood - the code doesn't exactly conform to the situation.

And in the end, we are simply left with another opportunity to exercise openheartedness.

Anonymous said...

"Most of these encounters over the years have been traffic stops. It is hard to live in the city and not be stopped occasionally, if only for a broken tail light. The thing is, it is never, “I’m sorry sir, I need to tell you that your tail light is out.” No it is always an excuse to check you over. And you can almost feel the air of suppressed contempt or distrust."

A large percentage of officer candidate training is devoted to traffic stops. They are unpredictable; the officer has no idea what he/she may encounter each time they stop a vehicle. Just after I read this chapter of your blog, CNN Headline News did a report of traffic stops. The on-board cameras certainly detailed what officers face each and every time they stop a vehicle. I copied your own words above--having such limited contact with officers is probably not enough to base your comments on (the changes in the boy from your building probably has as much to do with the transition into adulthood as it does with his chosen profession), and yet I do think you have touched on an important issue in our society---Trust. Obviously, when an officer pulls you over it is best he/she approach you with an air of distrust, it ensures their safety. But our whole society operates on the same premise...and that is very sad. We approach others with distrust. We assume the worst. I do not have the answers. I do know the problem is not simply a police issue--though they among all of us have cause to proceed with caution. I know it is important to trust-to say I will trust this person, or this ideal. Without trust, there is no hope, there is no light, there is no possibility. So if an officer pulls you over, do not make any sudden moves; smile; respond; and if you get a chance, ask the officer how his/her day is going and tell them you think they are doing one hell of a good job. Give them a big smile, and thank them, for they experience our culture of distrust on a daily basis.

Qalbi said...

There's something very important to our society that police contribute and many people do not understand, even policemen. I'm wondering what Wasifa it is...

Well, maybe something of a dark facet of Shahid.

I spent a year living on the streets, being a desperate drug addict and runaway teenager. Years later, in an Alternatives To Violence training, I 're-enacted' a story from that time, of being arrested and having a social worker want to help. It is still very vivid in my memory that I completely preferred the cold, straightforward disdain of the police. They were trustworthy and dependable, even safe. The social worker couldn't be trusted at all; she'd offer me all kinds of things that I didn't deserve and that might cause disappointment. I chose the jail cell and even expressed hatred for the social worker.

Jules said...

I have a picture in my mind, clearly I see it, I shall try to show you.
As the caste or class system began the differences between individuals became more defined. Some of those who had, became protective of their own and suspicous of those who may try to take it from them. While some of those who did not have, became resentful of the attitude of those who did. Over time these two groups grew, as did the distrust for each other.
Distrust can so easily come from nothing, "like a what if". Sadly with most people today it only takes one encounter with misplaced trust, for faith and trust to be replaced with distrust permanently, while suspicion breeds. This I see as one of the roots of tunnel vision, one then starts to see their own needs and values, with little regard for that of others.
Guard your own, and how many times have you heard the phrase "God helps those who help themselves", being used by a taker.
Sometimes I think the distrust between people of different cultures, religions, and associations is politically driven. It happens in the news and with current affair programmes all the time. Those few of a given sect who break the current law of the time, condemn all of the sect.
Im not sure if I have expressed in my waffling here what I was trying to convey.

Shakti said...

Well I know Karate, do you ? Maybe we should learn something on that , shall we ?? I love you Phillip Randall.