‘The System’ is Us

When we talk about problems in ‘The System’ we have to remember that ‘The System’ is made up of other human beings.  Let’s take a quick look at three different systems:  Public Education, Healthcare, and Law Enforcement.  Again, I am a lay person and I’m trying to look at this from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t study these things for a living, because I don’t.  And most of us don’t.

Public Education –

I spent about two years volunteering and working for Tacoma Public Schools in various capacities.  One thing that I can say without doubt is that teaching is an extremely difficult job.  First off, in the modern era of smartphones and social media, kids don’t have the attention span that I would argue I had when I was a teenager.  I hated school but could still force myself to sit still and be respectful to the teacher.  I’m not blaming the kids because I’m noticing myself checking my phone every 30 minutes and I don’t have any social media accounts.  The technological world that adults have created is facilitating a lack of general ability to focus in the traditional educational environment.  It’s facilitating that problem in all of us.  (Facilitating is different from creating.  Look in the mirror if you want to know whose fault it is you can’t stop checking facebook and instagram.)

Second, is the still obsession we have with standardized testing and college.  Teachers are often judged against their ability to produce results against standardized testing.  This reduces creative teaching methods and encourages the forcing of diverse learning styles into one pipeline and definition of academic success.  The costs of college continue to rise while wages relative to the cost of education seem almost flat.  You can’t just work a summer job and pay for tuition at The University of Washington any longer (A Public State School).  Imagine being a low income student of any race whose family has taught you nothing about personal finance.  You’re now being told that you won’t be successful in life if you don’t go to college.  However, maybe you aren’t built for standardized testing.  It’s not your learning style.  Therefore, the only aide you get for school is some pell grants and student loans.  So we start a low income student off in life with no education on personal finance with significant student loan debt in an environment where they may not succeed?  Does that make sense?  I’ve met teachers who want to help kids understand personal finance.  I’ve taught classes on it.  But somehow testing takes priority over basic life skills?

All this to say that teachers find themselves under significant stress daily to prepare kids for the world and often don’t get support from the system they work in.  It’s also hard to get parent participation from families in low income areas vs higher income areas.  I have a friend who Teaches for a Private school in Tacoma.  Parents there are very involved in the students academic progress.  I would be too if I were paying $20-30K dollars a year for my kid’s k-12 education.  That involvement creates a whole different set of challenges for teachers who are also some of the most underpaid professionals in our society.  Add to that spending much of their own money and time to help kids outside the classroom because there’s no time to slow down and do that 1-on-1 work during the day.  

I said this to my coworkers one day at TPS, “I’ve been to war and I think I’d rather do that than be a Teacher.”  I have a massive amount of respect for Teachers.  It’s a hard job.

Healthcare – 

Again, cost.  I don’t think I need to tell anyone that health care is massively expensive in our country.  Healthcare insurance is massively expensive in our country.  Just like teachers, healthcare providers are under massive amounts of stress in our country.

A few years ago I gave a speech at a retreat for Nursing staff for a local MultiCare Hospital in Tacoma.  A few years prior to that I had spent a year and a half working as an Emergency Services Technician in an Emergency Room in Tacoma.  I was familiar with the stresses of the work.  At the time, statistics showed that nurses were some of the most unhealthy people in the country.  Statistically more likely to be chronic smokers and suffer from insomnia/obesity than the average American.  Nurses are also more likely than Correctional Officers to be assaulted while on the job.  Working in an ER you see and experience patients physically attack healthcare staff all the time.  

Many of my coworkers got into the profession because they wanted to help people.  I think the problem is the fact that our healthcare system is set up to be reactive and not proactive against lifestyle diseases.  I once thought I might want to go to medical school but after spending time in the ER as both a Military Medic and a Civilian, I began to realize that a vast majority of the problems we were seeing had to do with lifestyle issues:  Mental Illness, diabetes, heart disease, drug abuse, homelessness – it’s not that these things aren’t urgent problems but Hospital Emergency Rooms aren’t set up to deal with them.  Social Workers and Counselors would be much more appropriate but there are few of those in ER environments and (going back to education) relative to how you are compensated for those jobs, the education is massively expensive.  People aren’t financially incentivized to become Social Workers and Mental Health Counselors (or Teachers).  

Even if you did have a bunch of Counselors and Social Workers who were well compensated for their efforts they would still have to deal with the stress of trying to help people change.  This goes back to why I don’t consider myself a ‘Coach‘.  I have two friends who are former Social Workers and they have both told me that the reason they stopped was due to the fact that it became too difficult to work so hard putting all these resources into people’s hands only to watch them do nothing with it.  I’ve heard the same thing echoed by Doctors and Nurses.  It makes one cynical.  

I can give you all the resources in the world but if you don’t desire change for yourself it’s not going to happen by my efforts.

Law Enforcement-

As I said in the last post, while in Tacoma I was working as a Hospital Security Guard.  While not in any way a police officer, I think the job had some similarities in the sense of what staff and visitors expected us to be able to do.  In my experience, whenever security is called to a place in the hospital, 50% of the time someone is very upset.  Staff is having trouble with a patient, a family is upset with staff, someone is stealing from the cafeteria, or someone is causing a scene of some sort.  Verbal De-escalation is something that you get good at if you’re trying to do your job well.  Getting people who are angry to calm down… while being called derogatory names, being talked down to, or called a ‘fake ass cop’ (lol – my personal favorite).  In those 50 % of interactions where people are upset, those that don’t work for the hospital think you’re a joke and those that do work for the hospital think you have the authority of a Police Officer.  As a security Guard, I’m the person that upholds the rules of the hospital.  As individuals, we all have our reasons why a rule shouldn’t apply to us in the moment.  It’s a massively frustrating job at times, let alone when you have to get physical with someone high on meth and covered in their own urine.

Police Officers have to deal with a more intense version of this everyday.  Often without the training to handle the issue at hand.  More and more police are responding to mental health crisis.  Police aren’t Mental health Counselors.  Police are responding to homeless people who are camping in public spaces.  Police aren’t Social Workers.  Law Enforcement personnel perform evictions.  Having to be the one who removes someone from their home probably really endears them to you?  “As a cop, every time you deal with someone you are dealing with them on their worst day!”  When I was contemplating what job to do when I got out of the military, one of my teammates told me this.  Working in security, you regularly interface with Police Officers and, yeah, I would have to agree with my teammate’s statement.  911 is called because something is going wrong.

Add to this when you actually have to engage with violent crime with very little in the way of training.  I think we have this idea that Police Officers are superheros who get trained at the highest levels of hand to hand combat and precision marksmanship.  While I’ve never been a Police Officer I can speak to this from the point of view of a Special Forces Veteran.  Again, people have this perception that because you were in Military Special Operations you must be some highly trained badass.  You shoot your gun everyday and train in martial arts weekly, if not daily.  Right?  Wrong!  The paperwork process alone to get time on the shooting range for a team of Green Berets headed to Afghanistan is ridiculous.  The time to get good at any martial arts techniques, non existent.  Again, too busy doing paperwork.  Now, If we think about the Police, they’re always hiring which means they probably never have enough (I’ve been recruited a few times and the availability of overtime is crazy).  With just enough people, how often is an officer supposed to get range time, the ability to learn hand to hand combat, and regular training on verbal de-escalation?  Or even just the time to work out?  In the military we often had a rule:  Train 99% of the time for the 1% of the time you have to use it.  We still didn’t get enough training and that’s without having to respond to daily calls like Police Officers do.  

Why is this important?  When you are confident in your abilities with a weapon, your abilities with your body, and your ability to maintain calm communication in an intense situation, you are far more likely to make rational decisions versus decisions based in fear/bias.  It’s the reason you do training scenarios before deploying in the military and the reason you spar in a Martial Arts Gym.  I seriously doubt that any Police Department has the time and resources to have their officers spend 50% of their work time, training.  Let alone 99%.

The Point-  

In each one of these systems (Public Education, Healthcare, Law Enforcement) you have public servants under massive amounts of stress.  I think we generally think of these public services as sort of infallible.  Again, working in an ER, people always thought that they would walk in and be seen by a doctor immediately.  Not true unless you are actively bleeding out, struggling to breath, or unconscious.  Otherwise, depending on the night, you’re going to wait.  Now interface that with poor neighborhoods… underfunded schools, lack of access to proper healthcare, and an adversarial relationship with law enforcement.  It’s a recipe for problems.  

As we look at the issue of Police Brutality I think we have to embrace the nuance that comes with realizing that every system that we criticize is filled with human beings.  Human Beings that get burned out, taken advantage of, and try to live everyday like we all do. 

What personal experiences of disappointment have you had with either of the three entities mentioned here (Public Education, Healthcare, Law Enforcement)?  How can you empathize with the public servants involved?  How can you take ownership of that problem?

PS – I’m an Andrew Yang Supporter and I am becoming a bigger fan of a Universal Basic Income.  Why?  Poverty seems to be at the heart of where our systems break down so often.  

-Travis

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