In the modern view, the best way to address every problem is through a new or upgraded product. This is the default reaction of a materialistic society governed by profits instead of by prophets. By referring to prophets I do not advocate for a religiously oriented, legalistic society. I’m in favor of an open, faith-based society that also tolerates those whose faith in a higher power has been so shaken as to cast the possibility of such a faith out of their lives entirely. We who continue to cling to our faith in a higher power have our reasons for living that way. Those who reject faith in a higher power have their reasons for living that way too. Let us celebrate our capacity to reason and even share our reasons openly. And let us embrace the integrity that may yet arise from such open-minded sharing instead of embracing the idea that every problem requires the introduction of a new or higher level of product or technology. If our society’s violence is rooted in dishonesty (lack of integrity, hypocrisy, whatever label), as I believe it is, then no amount of new technology will restore us to the integrity we need to resolve all problems without violence and instill peace and healing throughout our land. Video-graphing violence will not prevent it. Blaming others for it will not diminish it. We must admit our responsibility for promoting it as a symptom of our collective lack of integrity.
I am inspired to address this topic by recent proposals that more cameras be trained on police officers as they perform their duties so that we can hold them accountable for their actions in case their actions fall short of integrity when they face violence. Surely those who make profits from the sale, installation and maintenance of video equipment will be glad to have their businesses prosper under such proposals. Police officers who already operate with integrity will adjust to having their actions video-recorded. Police officers who already operate without integrity will also adjust – by developing ways to manipulate the records made by audio and visual recordings and to avoid their completeness by turning them off when it’s convenient for them to fail to make a record. If wardrobe malfunctions can occur, so can equipment malfunctions of other kinds by accident, neglect or intention. Nixon is not the only public servant who showed all of us how to manipulate the record. Technology is not infallible. Humans can brazenly manipulate it to create whatever outcome they prefer. If they have something to hide, it will remain hidden at all costs.
Accountability for being men and women of integrity applies to all of us. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was not of a nation that prospered because of how our profits rose but of a nation that prospered because of how our integrity rose. He dreamed of the day when we would judge ourselves not “by the color of [our] skins but by the content of [our] characters.” When our characters are filled with the content of integrity we will all be free at last. Integrity matters. Authenticity and Integrity Matter – AIM must become our highest purpose and ideal. No recordings audio and visual will insure our achievement of that goal. If we want to achieve it, we must allow not profits but prophets like MLK Jr. to guide us.
We live in an age awash with profit-making enterprises and especially devoid of prophet-honoring ones. We teach our young people to pursue careers that are profitable without teaching them to do so with enduring, unshakeable commitment to integrity. We teach our young people a compromised, lukewarm approach to life because that’s how we live. We’ve settled for mediocrity as the lowest common denominator by which to add up the fractions of our disintegrating society. We find common ground all too often in reassuring ourselves that everyone lacks integrity and no one stands up for being a whole person instead of a fraction. We will continue to fall into the void where fractured souls lacking in integrity huddle together in the dark until we decide to honor our shared need to be here as musketeers, standing one for all and all for one – each as a life worth living and as a person worth standing alongside of with gratitude.
Who will insure that our police officers are armed with integrity and not merely armed with the latest weapons and video-recording equipment? Who will stand alongside officers who dare to live as men and women of integrity amid the physically dangerous and emotionally harsh environments where we expect them to pursue their careers without sacrificing their health and well-being? Who will make it possible for us to entrust our communities’ welfare to men and women who bring to the challenges of law enforcement and protection of all citizens the integrity we need them to embody? We need officers to be protected by bullet proof vests but not by case-hardened hearts and coldly manipulative minds. If we entrust deadly weapons into the hands of those whose hearts and minds are not empowered by integrity to guide them in their use of their weapons, we will suffer the consequences we now witness – and more severe ones yet to follow. Violence will continue to escalate until we cultivate the courageous integrity needed to de-escalate it.
We must prepare officers to respond with integrity even in the midst of emotionally stressful conditions that threaten to escape their control and make them feel inadequate, foolish and at risk of harm. We must invest in their adequately empowering training and back them with adequately encouraging emotional support or they will not believe they matter to us enough to serve and protect us as we expect them to. We cannot lay upon them our most challenging emotional burdens while providing them with only limited emotional resources. And we must take care not to assume that a man or woman experienced in the use of weaponry under conditions of war is necessarily well-prepared to wield weapons in times of relative peace. The heart-rending hardship of war-torn battlefields does not necessarily translate well into the leadership needed on our embattled streets. Battlefield reflexes do not necessarily translate into responsible actions when confrontations take place between officers and citizens. We must be careful not to reap at home the violence we’ve exported abroad. Men and women who have served abroad may well be the best prepared to serve at home once we have honored them enough to help them heal and be restored beyond the emotional wounds of overseas service. To help them to heal reflects our commitment to peace at home and abroad. To fail to help them heal reflects our callous disregard of heroes we put up on pedestals while we pretend they have no sensitive human emotions worthy of our notice and compassion.
If we are to expect integrity and self-control from our men and women who are armed with weapons of warfare and charged with protecting those of us who are not so armed, we must stand with them with the same integrity we expect of them. We cannot expect of them what we do not expect of ourselves in less stressful situations. Loss of control under the duress of intense fear is a common threat we all face. If we cannot live as men and women of integrity while we enjoy the protection that police officers afford us, how can we expect our protectors to live up to higher standards while they are directly exposed to harm? Our protective heroes need our wholehearted support every day of their lives. Token praise at award ceremonies and eulogies at funerals are not all our protectors deserve.
If we are to invest resources in the lives and welfare of our police officers, let us invest wisely in their integrity and help them to feel our support for their health and welfare throughout every fiber of their being. Let us reassure them that we don’t take them for granted while sending them out onto our violent streets by day and night as we go about our routines as if we’re entitled to be safe but not responsible for their safety too. Let’s help our officers face the dangers of our out-of-control society by taking risks ourselves. Let’s risk stepping into the flow of violence and pluck from its flow those young people whom we see to be at risk of being confronted by police officers.
Let’s reduce the stress on officers who police our streets by tackling the cause of violence at its root. Let’s be men and women of courage and integrity who show young people who doubt that anyone cares about them how wrong they are. Or we risk confirming that the abandoned, rejected and neglected youth of modern times are right about the rest of us. As we witness solitary young men being confronted by police officers, might we ask ourselves why those young men are so alone and lack the high quality companionship that might well make all the difference in their lives? Do we have the integrity to do the right thing and care enough to be in their corner with them to help them know that they are not alone uncared for?
Why are we first meeting young men at risk of confrontations with police officers when they star in YouTube videos? Why did we not meet them earlier and let them know that they could star in our lives in more productive ways? How might it make a difference for us who are protected to let our protectors and the young men from whom we feel the need to be protected know that we care about every one of them and leave none out of our protected circles of protective care? Might our own intentionally cultivated greater integrity overflow to lift us all to higher ground together? A rising tide of integrity might float the boat we share and free us from the storm-tossed reefs of violence upon which our Ship of State is floundering. Before we abandon ship let us consider how we might voluntarily contribute integrity to seal the hull and add ballast to keep us upright.
© Art Nicol 2015