By Kevin Pagenkop, ENP
“I love change!”
If I were on the television game show Jeopardy, I would respond in the form of a question: “What is one thing I have never heard a dispatcher say?”
The human brain is capable of learning, retaining, and applying multiple skills. We possess the ability to change but often lack the drive to want to. Once we obtain a position of comfort and security in our jobs it is common to want to sit back and relax. Something new, or the fear of the unknown, can be terrifying. Should we be so resistant to change?
When I was a kid, our family vacations involved long road trips in our wood-paneled station wagon. The summer’s humidity hung wet and heavy in the air as our legs stuck to the vinyl bench seats as we motored out and away from the city. Our car may have been equipped with seatbelts but I have no memories of ever using them. The only people that wore seatbelts were racecar drivers and astronauts. I remember one trip in which a deer leapt from the trees and bounded across the road. My father applied the brakes liberally and provided for our safety by extending his arm, palm open, into the backseat to prevent my brother and I from being launched into the front seat. That reflex was the way we’d always done things.
A few years later I remember the “grown-ups” complaining about state legislation requiring the use of seatbelts. They bemoaned the change explaining that the new laws were “stupid.” I remember a family friend telling us that it was a known “fact” that if someone were in an accident, and they were wearing a seatbelt, that it would slice clean through them and cut them in half. Even after the close call with the deer, I was terrified of these deadly seatbelts and vowed I would never change.
Think back to your first days in Public Safety. You were probably willing to do whatever it took to get hired, complete training, and have a job. Once all that hard work paid off, and you evolved from “probie” or “newbie” into being referred to by your actual name, you were finally able to relax. Comfort and security were obtained and the responsibilities of your position could be carried out on autopilot. But then your training officer approached and advised that there were going to be some changes. New CAD. New protocols. Revised procedures. The center echoed: “I’ve always done it this way” and “this is stupid.”
While these statements can be misinterpreted as aggressive or insubordinate, they are in fact nothing more than fear. Fear manifests itself through several emotions (anxiety, sadness, anger, etc.). Seeing past the emotion is the first key to accepting, and then effecting, change in your center. Remind yourself that change is inevitable, and often, automatic. We adjust to stimuli and situations every day. These adjustments may not be consciously thought of as “change” but we routinely react to our environment. Each interaction improves us rather than erases or replaces existing skills or knowledge. When we learned not to touch the hot pan on the stove we didn’t forget how to tie our shoes.
Consider this analogy:
We all have some experience creating documents on our computer. What happens when you go back to one of these documents to add to it or make changes? You have the option of either creating a different document separate from the first or you can merge the new data into the existing file. Learning new protocols or procedures follows the same convention. We are not deleting existing knowledge or starting over from the beginning we are merely editing and adding information. Adapting and evolving. Over time, this will provide even more of a measure of comfort and security. Look back over your life and review all of the changes you once resisted. In most instances, you overcame the anxiety of the new or unknown and came out the other side smarter and stronger.
As an adult, especially one working in Public Safety, I value and appreciate the seatbelt. Its use is now unquestioned by today’s youth as that is what they’ve been raised with. Years from now, when they commute to their future jobs in electric-powered hover cars, I’m sure their safety will be provided by robot chauffeurs and immobilizing foam that deploys throughout the vehicle upon impact. I’ll probably still wear a seatbelt. Why change? Besides, anything else just sounds stupid.