- Jeffrey Denning
- I'm the author of four books: Warrior SOS, The Work of Death, Together Forever, and Leaders Wanted. I'm in the doc film Please Remove Your Shoes. I've blogged for The Washington Times, and I write for Guns.com. I've worked for the high-profile U.S.-led Roadmap to Mideast Peace in Israel and Palestine. I've also worked as a SWAT team leader, a Federal Air Marshal and a sole-source training instructor on a classified contract with a U.S. government customer. My master's degree is in Military Studies and terrorism. I'm a former noncommissioned and commissioned Army officer, with service in Iraq. I've been Scuba diving and skydiving; I have trained with members of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, and I'm an FBI-trained crisis negotiator. My interests lie in helping others and in strengthening America through inspiring moral courage, government fiscal responsibility and accountability, and maintaining principles that have made--and will continue to make--the United States of America a blessed and prosperous country. I'm a father of six, a husband, and a police officer. I reside in Utah, and I'm a Mormon. See also https://jeffreydenning.wordpress.com.
January 12, 2011
Brian A. Kinnaird, Ph.D. is an internationally known author, trainer, and educator in the fields of criminal justice and social psychology. He is a former commissioned law enforcement officer and has spent the last decade as a university professor and trainer in Kansas and Texas. Brian is the author of three books and frequently writes columns and articles on heroism and warrior hood. All of his work and books at www.briankinnaird.com.
Warrior SOS: Warrior SOS: Welcome Dr. Brian Kinnaird. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. Let's begin.
What is your book Parallel Universe: A Theatre for Heroism: Cops and Superheroes all about?
Kinnaird: At first glance, what in the heck is a 'parallel universe' and how do cops and superheroes have anything to do with each other? In our fantasy world, a parallel universe is a separate, self-contained reality co-existing with our own. It's like a fictional universe existing within our real universe. Superman protects Metropolis and Batman watches Gotham City while law enforcement officers do the same in our own cities. Their fictional world resonates into our real world and we, as cops, pick up on that and use the information from their world to guide our own behaviors: ethically, morally, legally—heroically!
There are a couple of themes going on in the book. One is the direct and symbolic parallels between superheroes and that of our modern day law enforcers: dual identities, powers, origin stories, costumes, archenemies, trademark weapons, headquarters, a supporting cast of characters and that colossal struggle between good and evil. The second theme is about living an authentic life and finding our heroic impulse. What makes a cop, a fireman, or soldier leave their house every day with tights and a cape? There is something remarkably healing and protective about remembering the spiritual ambitions that led you to your vocation and superheroes often spark that realization that we are something 'more' than the ordinary man or woman. The third theme is about looking at your profession and life artistically rather than from a dogmatic, mechanical sense. Knowing yourself means coming to know the patterns rooted in symbols from various relationships throughout your life. As a cop or soldier-warrior, you've probably always been a "helper" or leader in your life—Boy or Girl Scouts, leadership positions in school or athletic activities, excelling in your studies or just working on projects from focus to finish. You probably also had support by family, friends, and mentors who guided you and were leaders of their own generation or era.
Warrior SOS: This concept of viewing a warrior life from an entirely new perspective is something quite fascinating. What is this about model all about? Why did you choose to write a book in this unique and cleaver way?
Kinnaird: Go to your bookstore and look at where the people are: the self-help and psychology section. For some reason, people insist on dropping dollars for every new Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer or Dr. Phil book on how to live the "best life." They pick up the Tao Te Ching and Deepak Chopra to find out how to purposefully engage their world. Trust me, I've been in those book aisles, but I never found what I was looking for. I’ve read the books, but they seemed to apply to average people. I was a cop and didn’t feel average. What does authenticity look like to people who chase bad guys at 100 MPH, hold the hand of a dying car crash victim, charge into raging waters to save a motorist swept away by a flash flood, or run towards the sound of the guns instead of away? I remember stepping out of one of those aisles one day and caught a glimpse of a comic book on a spinning rack where they were displayed. On the cover was a small boy with one black eye and a tear in the other. With sadness, but hope, he was looking up at a dark-haired man who we only see from behind. Looming over this child was a man with a red cape and a yellow "S" on the back of it. The answer was right in front of me!
This Superman comic book story was about an abused family abandoned by friends out of fear and cast away by a broken criminal justice and social service system. There's a lot broken today. Like all warriors—cop or soldier—I came into my profession with a relatively stamped set of moral conditions that shaped me as a young man. My first year on the job I saw everything: drugs, suicide, murder, rape, sexual and domestic abuse—all demons hidden behind closed doors in a facade of neighborly interaction. When the gap widened between the world I worked in and the world presented to me by my upbringing, I would resort to superhero themes. The idea of goodness and justice afforded to me by my youthful heroes like Captain America, Superman, or Batman provided a world where morality worked like it was supposed to. It gave me a spiritual renewal to tackle the ugliness that was my new stomping ground. It also sparked a nostalgic feeling of what was once good, comfortable, and safe. Every Friday evening I could count on Lou Ferrigno ripping out of his shirt and throwing around the bad guys. There was a magic I had favored as a youth and, as I started researching the genre, I found that there is a psychological power in comic book superheroes that appeal to us. It was no longer the Hulk yanking the bad guy by the shirt collar anymore—it was ME! Only in recent decades have superheroes been given scholarly and existential study where we can use them as role models and not feel silly about it.
Consider that traditional storytelling has pretty much died out in our Western society. I rarely hear of Pecos Bill, John Henry, or heroes of the Greco-Roman period. Even heroes of the Bible have dwindled through our myriad of technology and laws that have replaced the value of religious culture with math and reading assessments or socio-political agendas that seek to snuff out even prayer and attendance at a church, mosque or synagogue. Legends and folklore are relevant and purposeful classics, but not everyone has been exposed to such readings or study and follow a specific religion. Despite socio-economic status, education, religion, politics, language, or ethnicity, go anywhere in the world and present Superman’s iconic chest sign and they will know what it is and, more importantly, what it symbolizes.
My argument is that superheroes are the strongest and most potent mythological translators of heroism in the modern age. It started years ago with a printed page and became a cultural phenomenon: publishing, television, movies, DVDs, toys, and video games. Billions of dollars that could balance our nation’s budget, fund wars, end wars, and bring food to the hungry are spent towards fantasy. Despite our real world, it’s the fictional world that brings us a sense of order and meaning. In our warriorhood, superheroes are a symbolic expression of that order. Terrorism, violence, a poor economy, a loss of faith and hope, and moral relativity now call us to lead our generations into greatness. Superheroes provide a symbolic solution in order to thrive and function to achieve that greatness.
Warrior SOS: This kind of interwoven philosophy of equating a cop with a superhero has never been done in quite this way before—until your book, right? Why is this book, in particular, important for law enforcement and their families?
Kinnaird: This cop-superhero mesh has never been done before. Of course we have classics where police officers were superheroes (or vice versa): Barry Allen was a police forensic scientist who was a victim of a laboratory accident and became The Flash, the Green Lantern was an intergalactic policeman, and even The Lone Ranger (a human, masked crusader) was a Texas Ranger. In our profession, the closest reference we have to comparative greatness is the religious figure of St. Michael the Archangel who exists as the patron saint and protector of law enforcement and soldiers. My friend and colleague, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, has spent the latter part of his career training officers using the history of the knights as role models for fostering the warrior spirit and leading our generations to greatness. The problem is that when I first met Dave and attended his seminars and bought his CDs, I had to go and research wars and warriors of centuries past. I didn’t have an immediate neuro-association to men with armor who wielded swords, but I did know that Wolverine of the X-Men had razor-sharp, titanium alloy claws that sprung out of his hands when he needed to.
As the G.I. or Silent Generation has passed away, the Baby Boomer Generation is aging and retiring. We are left with Generation X and Millennials. Our generations haven’t had to study warriorhood and history classes are almost non-existent in secondary education. Many are only electives at college now. Some of the very young officers never served in the military like our fathers and grandfathers, but have instead grown up playing video games about war. We have a 40 and under crowd who are on the streets or becoming administrators. That same crowd has also become the major writers, directors, and producers of our childhood heroes who were prominent during our youth from live-action TV series and cartoons. Superheroes are a theatrical and dynamic people. Those heroes have resurged in the last decade with major motion pictures and toys. While I go to pick up the 1970s Incredible Hulk boxed-set, my son picks up the action figure from the last movie. We have to fill the gap with contemporary and relevant benchmarks. Superheroes “are” the here-and-now and they show no signs of going away.
For law enforcement officers, superheroes teach us that we can and should risk our lives on an impossible cause. In law enforcement there is no completion, proper ending or salvation. There is only a reappraisal of our choice to protect and serve and that has to be enough. A Persian poet once wrote, “Even after all its fire and warmth, the Sun never said to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’” That’s the love in the law enforcement profession and we see it play out in every comic book, television, or movie. Heroes decline all compensation and it’s great to see that reinforced through superhero behavior because it otherwise waters-down what we are all about as protectors of the peace.
A last notion about the importance of superheroes for law enforcement is the anti-hero (or what I call “A Cop’s Kryptonite”). The label of hero or villain is fleshed out by moral choices made under pressure. A utilitarian philosophy says do what’s best for the greater good. For example, kill one; save a thousand. How many times have we arrested the same person who has hurt others over and over? They know we won’t hurt them and the justice system will slap them on the wrist. Likewise, how many times has the Batman allowed the Joker to “get away”? So much so that it is a long-running Jingle Bells tune sung by children since the 1960s. The bad guys know our good habits and they kill and take hostages to prove their theory and make good on their promises. A deontological philosophy questions whether or not we can be justified in our actions by the goodness of purpose. Instead, it is argued that the end never justifies the means—the means must be justified on its own merit. This is the classic struggle played out in our theatres and on the streets. As a result, we’ve seen the rise of anti-heroes such as Dirty Harry or anti-superheroes such as Wolverine, The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra, and others who seek out their own vigilante-style justice in response to moral relativity, confusion and frustration.
Warrior SOS: Let's talk for a bit on Kryptonite. A lot of police officers are military veterans. Many officers also serve in the military Reserves or National Guard. This has put a strain on police departments since 9/11. Whether cops have military experience or not, many of them have been in troubling situations, either overseas or on a beat—or both! What are some examples of these Cop's Kryptonite and how can the warrior guard against them?
There’s a great quote from the 2005 war movie Jarhead: “A man fires a rifle for many years. Then he goes to war. And afterward, he turns the rifle in to the armory and believes he is finished with the rifle. But no matter what else he might do with his hands—love a woman, build a house, change his son’s diaper—his hands remember the rifle.”
In many ways, a soldier or cop never leaves active duty. Even if you’ve been discharged, retire, or leave voluntarily to pursue other ventures, you are always scanning your surroundings, overprotective of your loved ones, cynical, distrustful, and down-right commanding. It’s hard to go “back” to a world that you are not accustomed to or remember and we often attempt to control a home or lifestyle as if it were our stomping grounds when, in fact, it is not. You don’t have to suffer from post traumatic stress to experience or appreciate the casualties of training as a warrior and “being” a warrior. It comes with the territory, so understanding that the affects of our training and our time on the front lines can actually inhibit a healthy, loving lifestyle is the first step to advancing the knowledge that Kryptonite exists.
In the story of Superman (and I’m using this in the present tense), people often think that he comes to us from Krypton already “super” or that the green crystal placed into his spaceship (and for which helped to create his Kryptonian-like home on Earth) is the source of his power. Actually, it is our yellow sun that gives Superman his powers and our atmosphere on Earth sustains those powers. That’s why in the comics, cartoons, television and movies, you never saw Superman venturing too far into space. It wasn’t Lois Lane keeping the guy around! Like meteorites, pieces of his destroyed home planet fell to Earth and in the presence of these rocks his life is threatened. It’s not a matter of becoming like “one of us” now, but rather it is deadly because he is already an alien being forced into a pre-existing world or condition that he could never live in like he did before—almost like a genetic mutation.
Psychological and emotional casualties are only one part of the larger piece of Kryptonite. Taking up the mantle of “warrior” is difficult when the moral conditions we bring to the job crash against departmental politics, bureaucracies, and bad things experienced in the field or on the streets. The nature of the great superhero story comes from the internal conflicts that force personal growth and change. While Spider-Man once hung up his costume to try out a normal “life,” he found it back on him again with a renewed fervor once he fully understood his purpose and that all of the other stuff was just background noise.
How many times have we looked at our uniforms the same way? How often have we thought, “I’m done with this—it’s not worth it!”? On the other hand, how many times have we picked up a new uniform or cleaned our existing one—stained with the sins of society—only to wear it as a clean, fresh, and renewed symbol of justice and peace? Chances are we put it on with a new attitude and appreciation for what we do and realized that it is worth it. What really happened was a spiritual cleansing of sorts, where the burdens and weight of politics, society and the horrors of war were washed away and we were able to start anew. A death and resurrection.
Unfortunately, our resolve is not all the same and the typical human response to pain and suffering is to retaliate and react with the same. To strike back—harder! Thomas Merton once said, “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.” In other words, pacifism isn’t enough. We have to be peacemakers actively working for justice and we can’t do it with a uniform hanging behind a closed closet door. Such forward action, he said, is not to be confused with the quiet inertia that is indifferent to justice—that accepts disorder or compromises with evil.
Lastly, themes of retributive justice are predominant and carry the Kryptonite affects that force us to examine our own ethical boundaries. Typically noted as our “shadow side” in classical psychology, this conflicted, destructive nature that we all possess can remain unconscious so a warrior must realize that the shadow exists and draw strength from it through awareness. Only after coming to terms with our destructive powers are we sufficiently terrible enough to overcome the immoral, unethical, and illegal tendencies on the streets, in the field, and in our homes. In the 2008 film, The Dark Knight, Batman comes to understand the benefit of his existence by becoming what he felt Gotham City needed—a fall guy for cop killings. It is with this sound, moral decision behind a mask of justice that Batman becomes a true hero—a silent guardian and watchful protector. This seemingly clouded undertaking is indicative of the police and military culture and when a good warrior does something wrong, we feel the ripples across the globe. Warriors are often condemned for others’ mistakes and are then forced to accept themselves as heroes or tyrants. Like Batman, warriors push on—wounded and battered—because they can take it. They are made to take it. They move forward, knowing that they are often casted out because that’s what needs to happen. A moral objective such as sacrifice or saving lives is the morality of something. While we might judge, condemn, or criticize the nature of the deed, we should never destroy the heroism of what was done.
Warrior SOS: Boys, in Western societies especially, have been told not to cry or to "suck it up" and "drive on" since youth! I'm aware, however, of some situations among law enforcement professionals who've witnessed or experienced some pretty horrific, life-altering experiences (crimes against children, partners being killed, et al). Additionally, with the stresses and horrors of war, one experienced warrior who's "been-there, done-that" wrote me from Afghanistan recently: "I miss the USA very much. I am doing well, but to be honest feeling a bit down. The tour has been much different that my other tour over here. Full of up and downs. It … has been a challenge … Just a lot of…misery."
Is crying okay?
Kinnaird: First of all, (and given your point about Western society) I thought it was quite brave and courageous for this man to let down his guard and feel comfortable enough to reach out to you in that way. Much has been written about warriorhood, some of which we are just now discovering yet the fact remains that we continue to separate our humanity with war and the atrocities of war. Between the ages of 4 and 6, boys and girls have the psychological capacity to understand and become aware of the boxes society puts them in---dolls, action figures, clothes, hairstyles, appropriate emotional responses to danger, sadness, pain, and happiness. As we grow older, we are socialized further by our friends, colleagues, media, politicians and family members who attempt to reaffirm who we “think” we are. This further clouds our humanity because who we are and how we have grown up doesn’t always mesh with our actual experiences (or the experiences of others). So to answer your question about crying—yes, it’s okay to cry. It’s actually unhealthy and inhuman not to!
As warriors we are trained in the military and law enforcement communities as robots (only with flesh and blood endoskeletons not unlike the science-fiction cyborgs created in the Terminator movies). I remember the last scene of the 1992 film Terminator 2 when Schwarzenegger’s character had to self-destruct by being lowered into a melting pot in order to destroy all cybernetic components that could be used against the human race in the future. Having developed a quasi-human relationship with the boy he protected, the boy cried and pleaded for The Terminator not to go. Touching the boy’s tears, he said, “I know now why your cry, but it is something I cannot do.” WE are not Terminators nor should we be coached or constructed in that manner.
A second point is that many of us are not ready for the horrific nature of the work in law enforcement and the military. No one at the academy or in my department ever told me or trained me that I would one day witness (and I’m being graphic here) the decimated head of a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the face, bruises and bite marks on a child’s back, a photo and video of a penis placed into the mouth of a 6 month-old baby by a pedophile. Furthermore, no one said that I would actually be in a fight and maybe lose or be fearful of losing. Age and experience has much to do with being able to deal with the emotions and atrocities that overwhelm us throughout the early parts of our career and combat. Research suggests that in WWII, the average age of the combat soldier was 26. In Vietnam it was 19. Think about putting your own child or grandchild into combat at that age. Many have barely lost their virginity! In other ways, atrocities are in our own backyard—cop and soldier suicide, working for people who know less, do less, and have experienced less, poor community relations, and people you work with who simply don’t like you! These psycho-social implications are captured throughout my book and lend a sense of continuity between the reality of being human while capturing the essence of being heroic in a less-than-heroic backdrop.
The last point I want to touch on is on the idea of “been there, done that.” It’s a fallacy in many ways. We’ve been there, but we’ve NOT done that. We will always go somewhere, but even if it’s another tour of duty (same place or another), another domestic disturbance call to the same house, it’s always new. The only thing that’s different is that we have a little more information than we did the first time around. This soldier’s second tour of duty was strikingly different than his first one and he said so specifically. Why? There are a couple of things happening: experience of the unknown and experience of the known. My first year in college and away from home was glorious. I got drunk, fooled around, skipped classes, stayed up late, and it was everything I thought it would be. I didn’t miss home and home was the antithesis of what I was now experiencing—and it felt good! After basically washing out of college, I moved back home for awhile to reconnect, get direction, and fix my sail. When I left again, I finished school successfully, got married, and I started a career and a family. But it was different this time and I missed home and appreciated it in a different way. This soldier ventured into the unknown during his first tour. While he excelled at what he did, it was new territory and he had to navigate it with a rightful gut-check—one that was not quite honed and skilled as the second. When he returned to the USA for awhile and went “back” he had more information this time. He understood how the world worked and that it didn’t quite bump up against what he thought it would be (or how it should be). His home country reinforced the moral protection and shield that he owned, but it wasn’t as strong or available over there. Why? Because we told him that he had what he needed from us so “Run along and play with the boys and I’ll call you when it’s dinner time.” The problem is that dinner isn’t fried chicken and mashed potatoes and the boys in the neighborhood are surprisingly bigger and stronger than you. From this point, you can either go sit under a tree or play, but you’ll have to face the spinach and broccoli at dinner. Regardless, there will be emotional fall-out and certain depression. It’s awareness that is important and, secondly, what you do with it.
Warrior SOS: We know there serious troubles can arise when warriors either a) don't recognize what's happened to them, e.g. to use your metaphor—exposed to Kryptonite, b) they won't admit they've been exposed to either work-related stress or PTS(D) (denial), or c) they refuse to get help because of the fear—which includes social stigma but also a personal admittance—that seeking professional help will in actuality reveal a sort of weakness. How does someone get help? Are there other options besides visiting a "Shrink"?
Kinnaird: A friend and colleague of mine, Dan Millman, wrote in his memoir The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, “The warrior is not about perfection, victory, or even invulnerability. It’s about absolute vulnerability—that’s true courage.” Once a person has self-actualized, it’s a matter of seeking the right direction—you can’t do it all on your own. Counseling is great—both privately or using an employee assistance program. “Shrinks” don’t give us the answers, they just help remove the roadblocks to our forward progress. Critical incident debriefing, accomplished through the help of administrators, EAPs, and professional colleagues, is an underused and misunderstood practice that yields wonderful results. It helps a person to come to terms with an event in a way that is psychologically acceptable. I don’t want someone to tell me it’s okay who, although empathic, has clearly not been in that position. It helps to soothe the immediate trauma.
Our modern times have revolted violently against religion and it’s time that we bring it back into our lives. Whether we are Christians, Muslims, Jews, or other participants of organized religion, the idea of submitting ourselves to something bigger than us (or other than us) has fallen by the wayside in favor of the scientific method. There must be a logical and rational explanation for every event and stimulus or response. Trust me, as a student and professor, 20th century applications of science have a choke-hold on today’s society. Where, then, does spirituality and organized religion come into play? It’s not my intent to push anything on anyone, but there is a quiet spur to action that I see coming on and this long withstanding benchmark of human excellence through spirituality is a historical communion and necessary component to managing the As, Bs, and Cs above. I’d also say that purchasing my book is good help!
Warrior SOS: Thank you so very much for your incredible insights. You've struck a chord with me, and certainly your words and responses here in this interview, as well as in your book, will touch the lives of others for good. In conclusion, do you have any last advice you'd like to share?
Kinnaird: Who are you? That answer lies with you—and only you—as you step out into the rain and open your umbrella for others to take shelter. It requires you to embrace a responsibility to seek out answers—to injustice and suffering—and to do so within a complex arena of relative morality, laws, politics, and values. This kind of self-awareness will make you lonely and anxious, but you will also be free to let go—to surrender to faith—and the answers will soon follow. Much like John the Baptist, who called people to recognize their roles in the problems of their world, we are all looking for someone who can help us to reveal who we are.
Evil is upon us and in the new chaos of our 21st century, we need our warriors (cops and soldiers) more than ever. We need hope and a spirit of heroism that cannot and will not falter. Don Juan Matus once said, "The spirit reveals itself to everyone with the same intensity and consistency, but only warriors are consistently attuned to such revelations." We need you—our superheroes—to save our world and light our darkest hour. With your new found powers of awareness and help (like the mission of Warrior SOS), you will lead us into greatness. Who knows, perhaps that help will reveal a red, white, and blue shield, repulsor-ready armor, the hammer of a Norse god, or a green beast dwelling within you!
"In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power—Green Lantern's light!"
—The Green Lantern Oath
Warrior SOS: Dr. Brian Kinnaird, Thank you so very much for your great insights and for helping warriors everywhere!
Be sure to check out www.briankinnaird.com.
To read amazing interviews with warriors, check out Warrior SOS: Interviews, Insights and Inspiration, the book on Amazon.com. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D3WO7VK