"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." - Henry David Thoreau
Now we once again have a chance to look at the exposed root of a prevalent problem at this time and place in history.
On Friday morning, a segment aired on CityTV Toronto's Breakfast Television that highlighted the painful and disturbing struggle a police officer suffered, prior to completely losing it on a drunken suspect in the back of a cruiser. This loss of control, rightfully so, cost the police officer his job.
But that is only the climax of the story. What led to that moment?
In teachers' college, I had an excellent professor who talked about removing oneself from a situation before it became critically difficult to deal with. I'll call it the 60 per cent rule, although he may have given a different number. Don't wait until you are at 99 per cent of what you can handle, when you are dealing with other people. Bow out, change gears, whatever, when you get to 60 per cent of what you can handle.
This police officer, by his own account, did try to bow out. He did try to change gears. As he inched or flew towards more than 100 per cent of what he could handle, he sought help. But his employer and his union let him flounder. He wanted to check himself into rehabilitation, but he was told that he had to wait. They would not give him a leave of absence. He would have to use upcoming vacation time in order to get what he needed for his mental health.
This police officer tried to end his life. Even that wasn't enough to convince those he worked for and the union that was supposed to support him.
And then, he lost it.
This situation is not unique to policing.
The stresses of many professions, including first responders, teachers, doctors, etc., can lead to a tipping point -- a breaking point. Consider the recent revelations that some Ontario doctors are mercilessly bullying each other. The pot is boiling over everywhere in Ontario.
Smoke and mirrors exist that, on paper, make it appear as if supports are in place and people can access the help they need, when they need it. But the truth is, there is often no one there. Everyone is covering themselves so they don't get sued over some sad outcome, such a suicide. But what if the price of silence is greater than the price of speaking up and taking action? I believe the time to speak up is now.
This is not only a time to voice urgent concerns. This must also be a call to action. Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, teachers -- change from the inside out. Acknowledge the problem and deal with its ugly truth. No one else is going to save you from this blight. There are individuals who care, but it is going to take a mobilization on your part to change the circumstances, which lead to unbearable stress from your jobs.
1. Acknowledge the truth of the problem. Right now fear is in control of your lives -- fear of being blamed, fear of losing respect from your peers, fear of losing respect of the public, fear of loss of prestige as a member of your profession, family, friends, etc.
2. Take a step back and see what works elsewhere in the world, in your profession. What are they doing? What kind of society do they live in? You don't have to reinvent the wheel - just reimagine your present circumstances based on works elsewhere on this earth.
3. Share with others what you have learned. Include research to back up your thoughts. Be ready to open your mind to other opinions that are supported by good research. Synergize.
4. If you can't do it, don't promise it. No pie in the sky, please. Only honest discourse will engage others long term. Only honest promises will build trust in individuals and in the systems that are supposed to serve the public.
5. Take what you have learned and choose one goal to focus on. As a ten-year-old I know says, "It takes a lot more steps to achieve one goal than you think." That chosen goal should be foundational. It is not the final answer, but like the foundation of the house. If you get the foundation right, the rest of the house won't fall down later.
6. Meanwhile, do something tangible today that gives your life meaning. If you can't think of anything that gives your life meaning today, you need to focus on the fact that you had worth from the moment you were born, regardless of whether anyone sees it or not. You do not need to earn value - you already have it. Maybe success today is just holding the line.
7. Remember that the truth is like an elephant. You see large parts of it from your point of view, but you need to hear others in order to understand the whole situation.
To all of you who serve the Ontario public, I ask you to open your minds and your hearts to what could be. The time for change is now.
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