Epictetus once stated in a general term:
That may leave some people asking what that actually means. How can our own opinions torment us? It's usually other people's opinions that suck. Our opinions are all we have and we need to stand by them faithfully, right?
In life, we are usually led to believe that the mark of any great man or woman is one who stands by what they say, do, or believe. That digging into our convictions or taking a steadfast stance on a certain position is a solid means to gaining respect from people.
And when we believe that, our ego eats it up. Our egos want nothing more than to gain the respect from others, so we don’t want to budge from the positions we take because if we do, we fear others will view it as a sign of weakness and lose respect for us. Even if we are shown a better way, educated properly, or shown proof of our misinterpretation on a subject, we dig in hard. The majority of us fight tooth and nail to defend our positions (and you see it all the time on social media) and ultimately dig deeper holes for ourselves, creating more of a headache, and it’s all in the name of standing by what we say or do because that is the popular opinion in today’s society of what it means to be respectable.
Let’s face it, no one likes to be wrong more than us cops, but sometimes our opinion or perception of what it means to be someone who is respected can be flawed at times, and that can cause us problems. Problems within our agency, amongst co-workers, amongst citizens, but worst of all with in ourselves. There’s no worse feeling than being proven wrong, realizing that we are wrong, and then never taking ownership of it; again, all in the name of trying not to appear weak. We are our own worst enemy at times.
This scenario of “dying by your convictions” is just one example out of many where we, as both a society and as cops, allow our impressions, opinions, and perceptions create problems for ourselves.
In the book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius further explained Epictetus’ stance on how we “torment” ourselves or create difficulties for ourselves (which we do). He made the claim:
And then broke that thought down into 5 reason that we do violence unto ourselves. Committing any one of these violations is a sure way to stress yourself out, have people lose the respect for you, or worst of all, even create legal or administrative problems for yourself. So, what are these violations of the soul?
1.) The first is simply allowing yourself to be stressed out in the first place towards anything outside your control. Some SJW wants to question your authority? So, what. As long as you know that you are acting properly under the color of law, why over react and get baited into an argument, possibly becoming the subject of a viral video because your ego was too fragile to have your authority questioned? Do what needs to be done reasonably and lawfully, and let that question of authority fall into the decision of the courts.
2.) The next is becoming unprovokingly hostile in both a physical and verbal way. In some cases, we’ve seen videos like the one below that, big picture wise, are obviously and completely unacceptable. Here we see in the first posted video, three different POV videos: two body cams and a third-party cell phone video, of an LAPD officer responding to a trespassing complaint. Although there was initial back and forth verbal banter, and some initial physical resistance by the suspect, the videos ultimately reveal the suspect becoming physically compliant, although still talking shit, and the officer opening up, in my opinion, an unacceptable barrage of punches to the suspect.
That officer created a world of mess for himself because he lost control of his reasoning. The first mistake was that the officer gave into the suspect’s shit-talking towards him as the suspect was walking away. It went all downhill from there to where now the officer has been charged with, according to California law, a felony level assault. Although I hate reigning down judgements on scenarios such as this because a.) I wasn’t there during the split-second decision to use force, and b.) this could have been me at one point, the videos show what the videos show and based on the totality of the circumstances shown in the videos, I feel it’s safe to say that this officer’s response was irrational and excessive. Even after the suspect was in cuffs, the officer still proceeded to escalate and talk shit not only to the suspect, but to by standing witnesses. Bruised ego much? Remember:
(If you disagree with my assessment of this incident, please feel free to open up a discussion in the comment section of the IG post for this article. I'd love to hear your perception.)
3.) The third infraction is becoming overpowered by pleasure or pain, or otherwise known as being undisciplined. Giving into your pleasures means becoming too lax, and giving into pain means making excuses. Don’t fall too far in either direction. Utilize temperance and maintain a disciplined mental attitude; discipline in your emotions and discipline in your actions.
4.) Being a liar or hypocritical is the fourth sin against the soul. I don’t believe that much needs to be said more than that we all know lying is the fastest route to getting yourself jammed up, or creating a serious situation out something that isn’t that serious, and ultimately fired.
5.) The fifth and final action of committing violence against your character is being impulsive; doing things without thinking about the consequence, or following orders without understanding the reasoning behind it. Impulsivity implies acting out emotionally as opposed to acting rationally. In this job, doing the former can cause you to make fatal decisions. Think before you do. Use whatever information you have at the time to form a plan. Even if it’s not a lot of information and time isn’t in your favor, acting impulsively is usually not the answer. Learn to think on the fly, calm your nerves, control your emotions and thoughts, and make sound rationalized decisions.
Ask yourself now, have you committed any of these violations? Do you frequently commit these violations? If yes, to either of those self-assessments, doesn’t it usually cause so much more stress than there needs to be? Had you just kept your emotions in check, relied on your rationality, been truthful, etc. how much less difficulties you would have made for yourself? Stop being your own worst enemy.
Aurelius, M. (1997). Meditations (Dover Thrift Edition ed.). (W. Kaufman, Ed., & G. Long, Trans.) Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. Retrieved 2018
Epictetus. (2008). Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics ed.). (R. Dobbin, Ed., & R. Dobbin, Trans.) London, England: Penguin Group. Retrieved 2019
Seneca. (2004). Letters from a Stoic. (B. Radice, Ed., & R. Campbell, Trans.) London, England: Penguin Group.