How often do you hear that expression tossed around, especially when it comes to command staff dishing out new policy that constricts the way you do your job or makes little sense, and yet they’ll be the first to violate it? And what does that ultimately result in? A lack of respect for those who impose those policies, poor morale, and a whole lot of eye rolling amongst the rank and file.
Now, of course, the stoic way to remedy this heartache would be so accept those things as they come and to find a way to see the silver lining behind the new way of doing things, but we are human and growing pains are a part of the human condition. So, let’s pretend that we haven’t quite yet learned to roll with the punches. Why does this bother us so much?
Easy answer is because we know that a lot of the new constrictive policies being handed down are perhaps political moves to make the command staff look saintly in the eyes of the media and politicians. We know that at one point in their careers, in the old world of policing, they themselves have probably committed some acts that would be outrageous in today’s standards, and yet, here they are now telling everyone else to do less. We get so worked up over this because we can’t fathom a place where a leader of our would tell us to do something that they themselves have actually done in the past, or probably will be the first to violate in the future.
That all too real (and probable) scenario is a modern large-scale example of what I’m about to get into. Remember, the practice of stoicism entails examining your own actions on a personal level daily. In the work entitled “Fragments”, Epictetus calls out pseudo-philosophers when he is quoted as saying:
Meaning that today (and likely back then too), especially in the world of keyboard warriors, there is an abundance of Facebook lawyers, Facebook doctors, Facebook psychologist, Facebook (insert highly educated profession here), etc. Everyone claims to know a thing or two about a thing or two. We see it every day. People who dish out advice to others, and yet haven’t put their own advice into action in who knows how long. Now, stop for a second and flip the mirror around. How many times has that been you? Answer honestly.
As police officers, we are supposed to be leaders amongst each other, but more importantly we are supposed to be leaders in eye of the public. And yet, I would say that a lot of us have at one point or another led by our words instead of our actions, turning ourselves into those types of supervisors that we find egregious. We’ve policed with tactics that we tell our rookies not to do and yet still utilize those tactics in front of them, we give the domestic violence victim some relationship advice on how to end the cycle and yet we continue to be in tumultuous relationships in our personal lives, we hear another cop tell a story about a difficult arrest or situation they had and then we tell them all the ways that we would have handled it knowing damn well that we’re full of shit, and the list goes on. I’ll be the first to say that I’m just as guilty as anyone.
The point being behind what Epictetus conveyed is that it’s absolutely not enough to just appear to be the part, you actually need to be the part. You need to walk the walk if you’re going to talk the talk. If you want to be a leader, you need to lead by example. Don’t exemplify or embrace the idea of “do as I say, not as I do”, actually do it. You will have more respect you if your fail in your actions as opposed to failing in your inactions. No one respects or believes the person who constantly says “one day I’m going to…blah, blah, blah”.
The stoics, especially Epictetus, stressed the importance of practicing philosophy, not just spewing words of the philosophy. As a stoic, you need to have the daily discipline to put one foot in front of the other and do the things you say are going to do. Lead by example today.