I’ve never wanted to be a cop.
I’m supremely grateful for the fact that they help prevent the bad guys from climbing in my window at night. And at the same time, it’s just not the job for me.
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is something that I’m working on improving in my personal and professional life. There are moments when it feels uncomfortable to hold others accountable for their actions. But I’m learning that, with practice, I can actually pull it off rather smoothly on a good day.
Somehow this feels different from being The Guy On Patrol, a role I’m seriously not interested in playing. (Maybe this is related to why I don’t have kids of my own.) As the Trusted Adult people can go to when they need help and want to change things for the better, my life generally runs pretty smoothly. But when students are breaking rules, don’t want to be here, and have no interest in trying to change or grow, it can be a challenge to keep them engaged.
Recently, I’ve found myself getting caught up in trying to serve two masters… trying to simultaneously play the contrasting roles of cop and counselor. Maybe this combination is possible for some, but I can tell you that I personally don’t know how to do both successfully. Not yet. In fact, I don’t even know how to be a ‘cop’ (or rule enforcer) successfully; whenever I try, I end up feeling drained and unhappy. Even if I “win” by catching someone in the act of breaking the rules, it feels like a letdown. A power struggle. And at the end of the day, I find myself taking things personally. (My mistake, I know…)
I’d much rather catch someone in the act of reaching a healthy goal. Facing a personal challenge. Doing something right. But recently I’d lost sight of that. The more I tried to control situations through force, the more stressed and uncomfortable I felt. The more resentment and rebellion I encountered.
The tension felt like a coiled snake in my stomach.
Fortunately I’ve been able to recognize and acknowledge the grief that I’m feeling from the recent death of one of my students. The sadness and frustration I feel at the idea that our society let this young person down has had me distracted for the past couple of days. This self-knowledge is priceless, I know. But even with the metacognitive awareness that I’m grieving, still I’ve found myself reacting (versus ‘responding’) to recent student behavioral issues by clamping down even more tightly on the rule book. Trying to be more and more of a ‘cop’, rather than stand calmly in the counselor role that comes so much more naturally to me and benefits everyone involved.
Feedback from colleagues and my own reflection on how I was feeling helped me to see the need to talk. And at a recent meeting, someone I deeply respect said, in a very matter-of-fact way, “You can’t be both the cop AND the counselor…” The words struck me like a ton of bricks. I looked up in surprise at this realization… Until that moment, I thought I’d been failing miserably at a task that others could probably do very easily. Only at that moment did I ever stop to consider that being the “Enforcer of Rules and Distributor of Punishment” was not going to help earn the trust of students needing to talk with someone they could trust.
I must have looked a little ridiculous, with the big, dopey grin on my face, the expression of surprise, and the tears welling up in my eyes.
But, once again, I find myself remembering the words of Steve Vai, who says that the way to be true to one’s unique talents is to do the thing that is the most obvious. To do what comes naturally.
Returning to the softness of the open heart is what feels right to me. And letting the resentful student express his or her emotions without trying to take responsibility for them is a way that I can demonstrate love, compassion and strength. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is non-negotiable, and remains a key part of my happiness and success. (I’ve worked too long and hard at that to ever go back to my prior shady emotional dealings with others and myself.) I believe carrying this out with a smile is the hallmark of a master.
Maybe win them over. Maybe not. But releasing my attachment to specific outcomes is certainly a good start. Gives me a much better chance at opening up a conversation based on mutual trust and respect rather than fear.
I don’t have to be both cop and counselor. I don’t even have to try. What a relief.
What about you, Fellow Traveler? Ever try to be something you’re not? In your art? In your life? How has that played out?