The investigation of my personal cynicism peaked in the Watch Commander’s Office of a small police department here on the north coast of California.
I was on staff there and running various delinquency prevention programs and family services. On that day, I was working on a local School Violence Threat Assessment protocol based on FBI research. My head was spinning with strategies and tactics for sorting out and responding to school violence without making the situation worse. An Officer came in my office and asked me to meet him in the Watch Commander’s Office to evaluate a series of calls about high school girls being harassed by a new street person in town.
Four of us sat in the Sergeant’s office reviewing the circumstances, having added in a Detective known to be skilled in profiling sex offenders. After gathering together what little we knew, checking other local jurisdictions and finding no contacts, we sat for awhile drinking coffee and waiting for the State and Federal rap (report) sheets to arrive, quietly contemplating our suspicions. Finally, the dispatcher handed in the findings, saying there was nothing there, the guy had never been arrested. To a one, the Officer, the Sergeant, the Detective, and myself, all blurted out: Yet!. We all laughed.
As I walked down the hall to my office, I had that disquieting feeling that my heart/mind had closed a little bit more. Whether or not that street person was caught for sexual harassment, or worse sometime in the future, really didn’t matter; I had registered an interior constriction that somehow I felt was unnecessary and unhelpful.
Granted, I was working in an environment where the ‘c’ word was avoided. To care seemed to reveal a weakness and was best left to social workers and the like. In fact, many of the more hard-boiled personalities Officers dealt with would take advantage of a kindness, sometimes in a dangerous way. And yet I knew that staff well, I knew they came into police work because they wanted to be helpful (and, yes, for the excitement when they were young) and cared.
However, I couldn’t let myself off the hook. Simply put the practice of zazen and the Buddhist precepts, over time, just did not allow me to put up with adding constrictions of heart/mind. I was looking for true freedom, not safer defenses.
What to do? Well, actually nothing. I couldn’t come up with a strategy to defend myself from the cynicism around me, nor my own. Cynicism had become a mental habit that slowly accumulated like a light, yet continuous, snowfall. Worse, perhaps, was realizing that it also reinforced a severe sense of separation.
It took years for me to see that my mistake wasn’t really the cynicism, but in trying to come up with a strategy to defeat it. The more I sat with the cynicism, with the sense and fear of separation, with the notion that there isn’t anything that needs protecting, the more it melted. It was like dropping a clear jewel down an infinitely deep well of clear water. The movement of the jewel was enough to catch my attention and allow a loosening of the fear based body/mind habits.
Oh, the cynicism-habit is still there, though weaker. I just don’t invite it in for tea (much) anymore. And the jewel, well, it just seems to fall in every direction.