Wednesday, May 17, 2006


He talks a good game. He's got all the qualifications- a Black Belt, a security job, special team membership. He buys every piece of new equipment and every cool weapon that comes on the market. I asked his captain once what he thought of him as an operator. The captain gave a smirk and said, "He sure dresses nice." He has a reputation for freezing, standing there with a deer-in-the-headlights look while his partner fights and, once, was injured. When he plays the bad guy for training, he curls up on the ground the second the team enters... then says he thought getting him out of that position would be an "interesting challenge for the team". It also hurts a lot less than fighting.

You can have all the skills, all the recognition, accolades and approbation and still lack heart. Because it's easy to fake heart.

There was a new officer, a six-foot former marine, who called me to say that an inmate had challenged him and insulted him. He wanted to know what to do. He was hiding in the locked officer's station when he called me. The question, of course, is what should he have done, which was get the inmate cuffed and if it turned into a fight to win. He left the job after a year or so. He never got any braver.

The same week another rookie had her first fight. She was a 5'2" single mother who had no military training, no martial arts, and had never been in a fight or even thought to... but when she saw two inmates fighting, she jumped on the big one and when he threw her completely out of the cubicle, she jumped on him again. Over the years she became one of my favorite officers- she even, occassionally, scared her partners because she would jump into any fight and always picked the big one.

Heart is a big one for us. We know from bitter experience that there is no way to tell who, when the shit starts, will run toward the fight, who will run away and who will freeze. Size doesn't matter. Tournament trophies and championship belts don't matter. I've seen Marines run away and former SEALs unable to control their shakes or their tempers.

I've also read claims (we all have) that with this course or those DVDs you will learn to control your fear, be a master of combat, "fear no man"... I haven't seen it. I'm in a unique place for that, since I know people who go to those classes and then I watch them deal with danger. It makes the good ones better. A really good class can point out weaknesses. But I've never seen any training that can make a coward into a brave man.

Yet I don't think you're born with it either. I don't think I had any special heart when I was young. I was afraid of conflict, afraid of violence, afraid of being hurt- but I fought. I always fought because I believed I was supposed to, believed with the faith that children are known for. You protected the weak, even if you were weak yourself. You stepped between bullies and their victims. When you heard a cry for help, you ran to help. When you honestly believed that there were vampires in the cave (long story) you went in, because if you didn't they would get someone else, someone who couldn't fight.

It became a habit to fight, to defend, to go in. Just a habit, chosen by a child who read too much about King Arthur.


Kami said...

There's also the 'no one else' thing. When I was a kid, some older, big boys, three of them, teamed up on a friend of mine as she was going home. I was tiny compared to them. I got in the middle of the circle with her and told them off. I didn't start to shake until later, mostly from rage but partly from the realization of how hurt I might have been if they decided (rightly) that they're stronger and outweigh me and outnumber me. At the time it didn't even cross my mind. There was no one else but me to help her, and if I'd run to get an adult, who knows what might have happened in the meanwhile.

Kami said...

Oh, didn't get the core of my idea across. It's less heart, more no choice in some situations.

Of course as an adult and reading about the home invasion thing ... sometimes the instinct to intervene can make things worse. But instincts don't make judgement calls. They just are. Sometimes you have to fight them, and sometimes they work to your advantage. Fighting your instincts will always be less productive. You can end up spinning your wheels.

Mac said...

A teen age girl called me to report a couple of men who approached her and her female friend while they were parked at Crown Point at 10:30 at night, talking. Both wore masks and one had on only sneakers and boxer shorts. Guess what the girls did? Let the men approach and talk to them. The girl who called me said she thought the situation was "wierd" but because the men were calm and polite, let them talk. She said the two men then went back around the Vista House and the two girls started getting back in their car when the men approached them again, 'chest-bumping' one of the girls. Luckily for these two sheep, the men let them go. Now that the two fellas have had their trial run, and found how stupid sheep really are, they will be more aggressive next time. How the f#@k do you get across to the sheep that they allow crime to flourish? It's got to have something to do with the two brains in humans. You'd think the constant bombardment by the media of crime dangers, and how to avoid/report them, would bring a clue. But all the knowledge in the world doesn't seem to help when the right brain is tripped via adrenaline. Job security, I guess.

Molly said...

Hey - Or,
I have to thank you for the vampire thing -
It's long over due.

And Kami - if you didn't have heart, there would have been another choice, and your friend would have faced the bullies alone.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Remembering all the times I wound up in a very ugly situation because I did what most definitely felt right...even if it contradicted my instincts...

Sometimes it only wound up making matters worse overall, so maybe I should have listened to my instincts on those occasions.