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It is said that you can judge a generation by its heroes. They represent its values and its culture, and stand for its worth to history. There are those who would have you believe there are differences in what constitutes a modern hero as opposed to those of the past.
In law enforcement, supervisors should work to pass along values and lessons that will help those below them build a firm foundation to anchor themselves and allow them to build our next generation. However, who exactly will that new generation be, and what values will they uphold?
What is a hard core value for one generation is watered down in the next and made even weaker to the following one. Some values are changed due to technological innovations, some via world events, and others are perverted through the changing trends of popular culture.
Some older generation so-called “values,” such as discrimination against people based on color, creed, gender or sexual orientation, have changed for the better. But when you compare those to changes made due to societal influences, those brought on by entertainment stars for example, you begin to see a trend toward the negative. In those cases, you begin to see catch phrases masquerading as values. You see “political correctness” in place of truth and reality. You see irrational theories and self-serving ideals taking the place of hard core facts.
Most current law enforcement supervisors grew up near the end of the John Wayne era, when he was at the height of his popularity. Some scoff at the antiquated values of that generation that Wayne always represented. With a sixgun on his hip, rifle in his hand, Wayne always portrayed the ultimate American. He was rough around the edges, and a good guy, always. In none of his films did you ever hear that America’s military or law enforcement was to blame for the world’s ills; instead, it was the solution. Do we hear the same from the stars of today?
Wayne was also the ultimate man. Brave, smart, strong and loyal, he was the filtering icon by which a generation of America’s youth saw life. If Wayne did it, it must be right, and scores of youth wanted to be just like him.
Today, most people looking for a hero look to sports stars and others who unfortunately have a dismal history of being worthy of the title. Few can see the true heroes of the current generation because they are hidden, glossed over by world events or media bias. At best, they are a fleeting mention in a newspaper or a 30-second spot on the nightly news.
Today, true heroes are made up of all races. They are crawling around in the caves of Third World countries hunting down evil men; they are shepherding a black and white through the back alleys of our worst areas, looking for trouble and keeping the wolves at bay; they are standing their ground, drawing a line in the sand and saying, “No more. These people are safe because here I stand.”
The true heroes of today may not be as well known as those of the past, but they are shaping the future. They race through gunfire to stop the killing; they crawl into burning cars and buildings to drag out the innocent; they take a stand against the discrimination, hatred and loathing that threatens to drag us all down into the pit of hopelessness.
Take heed, America; you have once again given birth to hard core sons and daughters. They go to work each day risking absolutely everything for very little reward. Supervisors have the honor of teaching our next generation of heroes. This is a solemn duty that we must meet as the world of today may be ours, but tomorrow depends on them. In their hands, our future lies.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the City of Bloomington Police Department where he serves as the tactical team leader for that agency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Sep 2010
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