Chapter IV: Benevolence

by Adam J. McKee

As the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics dictates, “I will … be constantly mindful of the welfare of others.”

Tsunetomo Yamamoto describes the importance of benevolence thus:

A samurai cannot fulfill his duty unless he has enough compassion within to break his stomach; at the same time, he must appear courageous without (Stone, 2001, p. 69).

Nitobe (1979) described benevolence this way:

“Bushi no nasaké”—the tenderness of a warrior—had a sound which appealed at once to whatever was noble in us; not that the mercy of a samurai was generically different from the mercy of any other being, but because it implied mercy where mercy was not a blind impulse, but where it recognised due regard to justice, and where mercy did not remain merely a certain state of mind, but where it was backed with power to save or kill. As economists speak of demand as being effectual or ineffectual, similarly we may call the mercy of Bushi effectual, since it implied the power of acting for the good or detriment of the recipient.

The most original philosophical notion attributed to Confucius was that of humaneness (Japanese: jin).  Though never so much clearly and concisely explained as it was discussed and explored, the Analects suggests that the practice of humaneness consists in not treating others in a way that one would not want to be treated.  Not surprisingly, this notion has been characterized as the Confucian “golden rule,” and likened as well to Kant’s categorical imperative.  It calls on people to act according to rules that they would be willing to deem universal laws.

Caring and Service

Tsunetomo Yamamoto took great pride in his clan, regarding it being among the most powerful in Japan.  He credited this success to a firm resolution.  He admonished those whose resolution had “become cooler” to focus on the “unique vows” of the clan as a way to “keep it hot.”  There were only four vows.  The fourth among them was “Stir up your compassion for all sentient beings in order to devote yourself to the service of others.”

Those without compassion will not make it along the Warrior Way.  As Yamamoto put it, “It is evident through old and new examples that samurais with only courage, but without compassion, become extinct” (Stone, 2001, p. 71).


As a peace officer, peacemaking is an integral part of the job.  Often, violence is used when it could have been avoided simply because we have not adequately trained ourselves in the interpersonal communication skills necessary to resolve “street” problems without resorting to force.  People speak of the “gift of gab” as if it were a supernatural property gifted to a select few by a higher power.  While some of us may be better communicators by nature, the essential communication skills of peacemaking can be learned by anyone.

A large portion of the blame for general incompetence at peacemaking lies with our training academies.  Every police trainer knows that trainees love “war stories.”  Tales of past actions are integrated into current training in an effort to illustrate a point and add excitement and interest.  Dr. George Thompson, founder, and president of the Verbal Judo Institute, suggest that police trainers also integrate “peace stories” into training.  That is, officers should be exposed to situations where skillful communications lead to a peaceful resolution to a problem.

A large part of successfully dealing with people is rising above the adversarial mentality of the streets and the courtroom.  In our legal system, there is no such thing as a tie.  Two parties enter the courtroom, face each other, and one comes out victorious, and the other is the loser.  All too often, officers take on this mentality in dealing with citizens on the street.  In other words, each encounter is treated as a conflict in which I (as a police officer) must win.  This would not be so bad if we did not hold the unspoken belief that the other person has to lose.  Treating a citizen encounter as an adversarial process is by nature aggressive.  Treating citizens aggressively will ultimately have a huge negative impact on your ability to perform your duties, as well as make it harder for every officer in your department to do their job.

Many officers can only see two options when it comes to contact with citizens.  They either must be aggressive or win the encounter, or they must be passive and lose the encounter, letting the citizen “punk them down.”  For most officers, this second alternative is absolutely shameful, and they will not for a moment consider it.  This leaves only the aggressive path.

There is a middle path that mental health experts call assertiveness.  The major difference between aggressiveness, passivity, and assertiveness is the underlying message.  The underlying message of aggression is that my thoughts and opinions are important, and your thoughts, your opinions, and your feelings are not important.  This is what Covey calls a “Win-lose mentality.”  In other words, you are saying to the citizen, “I must win, therefore you must lose.”  Passivity is what can be called a lose-win mentality.  This sends the message that I want you to win so badly that I am willing to let you force me to lose.  The alternative is assertiveness.

This type of interaction sends the message that my beliefs and opinions are important, but your beliefs, opinions, and feelings are important, and I am willing to respect them as much as I can.  In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey calls such interactions win-win.  The important thing to realize when seeking a win-win solution is that social interactions are not a zero-sum game.  Nobody has to lose; everybody can win.

Dr. Covey explains that before a person can effectively “think win-win,” he or she must be in possession of three requisite virtues.  You must have integrity, which he defines as “sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments.”  You must also have maturity, which he defines as “expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others.”  You must also have an abundance mentality.  This means simply believing that there is plenty for everyone and that compromises can be reached.  What Dr. Covey calls maturity and the abundance mentality fits neatly under what the samurai writers have referred to as benevolence.

Benevolence in Ethical Problems

Ethical decisions cannot be reached unless we have the capacity to consider others.  Considering our own happiness as the sole criterion leads to unethical behavior.  As Tsunetomo Yamamoto put it:

We take it for granted that effective, problem-solving thinking requires deep thought.  This is not necessarily true.  The truth is, if you base your thinking upon your selfish desires, the working of your mind is reduced to the working of a malicious intent.  No wonder your ideas end up as being selfish and evil (Stone, 2001, p. 14).

Is Benevolence Enough?

Benevolence is a desire to do good for others—it is goodwill.  Therefore, it is a disposition or a feeling.  Guardians are people of action; how then is a mere feeling good enough for these elites?  The simple answer is that benevolence is not good enough.  Benevolence is good enough for the average person, but true Guardians display beneficence.  Beneficence is action intended to work for the best interests of others.

The modern Guardian is obligated to seek to help others further their legitimate interests.  Guardians often fulfill this obligation by removing possible harm.


Respect is a difficult subject to treat in detail.  We all have a general sense of what it means, but clear boundaries can be elusive.  This elusiveness is due in large part to the fact that the word has two meanings.  In one sense, it means showing honor to another.  In another sense, it means having or showing shame that we do not measure up to the virtuous behavior of another.

One of the most difficult aspects of learning to respect others is that respect is based on a seeming contradiction with the values of equality and justice.  The simple fact is that respect is based on the idea of inequality—that some things and some people are more important than others.  This means that to master the virtue of respect, we must first master the virtue of humility (see Chapter 3).  The essence of respect is treating other people better than we treat ourselves.

It is a major tenant of all major ethical and religious systems that we respect our fellow man, at least in a general way.  This is no different from Bushido.  True warriors of the Samurai tradition understood this, often going to great lengths to give an enemy an honorable death.  This need to respect others is especially clear for modern law enforcement officers.  It is more than simply a matter of personal honor.

We all understand that policing is a politically charged environment, and disrespectful behavior aimed at the wrong person or group can result in suspension or termination of employment.  There is no greater shame than to be publicly dismissed from your agency for misconduct.  The media will see to it that your shame is not a private matter; your shame will be made public by news agencies of all types.

Some think that merely acting disrespectfully toward a citizen cannot lead to termination, but it can.  Take, for example, the case of a veteran Des Plaines officer who was terminated for verbally harassing anti-abortion protesters.  The department claimed that the officer verbally abused the protesters while in uniform, threatening to arrest them even though the protest was conducted in a legal way.  He referred to members of the protest group as “fat cows” and made other insulting statements.  He then returned in civilian clothes later that day and continued the verbal assault (Rusin, 2007).

Respect as Loyalty

As we previously discussed, no virtue stands alone.  Every virtue is qualified and limited by other virtues.  It must be realized that showing respect is not only a virtue in its own right, but loyalty demands it as well.  Our obligation to our agency dictates a high degree of professionalism at all times.  As representatives of our agency, we reflect our agency to the public.  When the public discusses your actions in encounters with citizens, they will rarely mention you by name.  They will express negative experiences in terms of the agency as a whole, deriding “the police.”  By acting in an unprofessional way, you show disrespect not only to the citizen that you are dealing with but to your agency and your fellow officers as well.  Animosities that you engender will likely result in your fellow officers dealing with that person’s enhanced animosity toward the police and the resulting lack of cooperation.

A quick glance at newspaper articles about police conduct will hammer this point home.  These articles always have titles such as “Chicago Police Department Mired in Scandal.”  We must delve deeply into the fine print to discover the actual officers involved.  It is the reputation of the whole department that suffers, no matter how unfair this may be.

Perhaps the person most affected by unprofessional conduct is your chief administrator.  It must be remembered that chief law officers are either political appointees or elected officials.  These men and women depend largely on the respect of the community or the elected representatives of the community to keep their jobs.  If you reflect badly on your chief, it demonstrates extreme disloyalty.

Respect for All Living Things

The notion of the Samurai’s respect for all living things probably owes more to the philosophy of Zen than any other source.  Buddhists believe that all life is sacred, and thus even animals are of intrinsic value.  The sacredness of life is a value that is increasing in modern American society.  Animal cruelty statutes have become more punitive, with serious animal abuse becoming a felony in many states.

Thus, Bushido leaves us with an important maxim:  Respect all living things.

Simple Courtesy

Nothing demonstrates respect for another person as quickly and as effectively as being courteous.  Many Guardians are already in the excellent habit of addressing people with titles of respect.  Citizens are addressed as either “Sir” or “Ma’am.”  Fellow officers are formally addressed by rank or by the titles of respect given to citizens.  We all understand the importance of referring to judicial officers with titles of respect.

Many wise officers have discovered that courteousness is contagious and that people will adopt a respectful demeanor when they are in an environment where respect is practiced consistently.  If you take care to always refer to your partner as “Officer Jones,” then citizens will treat the title like a proper name and use it as well.  (I have seen this strategy work excellently in my local probation office).  This ability to build rapport quickly can be invaluable to officers conducting investigations.

We should also consider our nonverbal communication when we think about courtesy.  It is rude to yawn in the face of others, for example.  This is also true of sneezing and coughing.  As Yamamoto points out, “This is also true of sneezing, which makes you look silly and foolish” (Stone, 2001, p. 16).  Indeed, acting in a dignified manner will go far in earning you the respect of others.  Nearly every agency has an officer that is clumsy, shares his bodily functions with everyone, and speaks before he thinks.  When you think to ignore courtesy, think about how much respect you have for that officer.

As Tsunetomo Yamamoto said, “As your pen will not break from writing ‘sincerely yours’, no matter how often, so your neck will not break from a bow” (Stone, 2001, p. 46).  Of course, we do not bow in the West, but a handshake fits within the sentiment.

Nitobe (1979) had this to say of politeness among warriors:

Courtesy and urbanity of manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist as a marked Japanese trait.  Politeness is a poor virtue, if it is actuated only by a fear of offending good taste, whereas it should be the outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feelings of others.


Allowing Self-Respect

Respect for others often means that we must be mindful of allowing others to keep their self-respect.  Aside from ethical considerations, it makes good sense to allow others to keep their self-respect rather than humiliate them needlessly.  Keep in mind that many criminals subscribe to a perverted version of the Warrior Code that highly values personal honor.  Any slight against that honor will likely escalate resistance to police authority and even violence, often needlessly.

This sentiment is echoed in the teachings of Verbal Judo.  Dr. George Thompson (2008) argues that the peaceful resolution to many potentially violent encounters with citizens is simply allowing the citizen to “save personal face.”  We can accomplish this by doing such simple things as making polite requests rather than barking orders, separating the subject from family and friends before making demands and asking questions, and showing thanks for cooperation.

A major facet of respecting other people is understanding where the other person is coming from.  Many ineffective communicators make the mistake of using their own history and frame of reference when trying to understand other people.  One of the most important things you can realize when dealing with other people is that they do not think, feel, or believe as you do.

Dr. Covey (1989) stresses this point in the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People with his fifth habit:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Dr. Covey maintains that communication is the most important skill in life.  He points out that we spend years learning how to talk and write.  These skills start to develop in the cradle, are developed in school, and are honed in college.  Communication, however, must flow in two directions.  Effective speaking and writing may make us understood, but it does not help us understand the other person at all.  To be an effective communicator, we must also be good listeners.  Covey laments the fact that we seldom get any instruction in “really, deeply understanding another human being.”

According to Dr. Covey, most people get the process all wrong:

If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across.  And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.  So why does this happen?  Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.

The problem really is that you are not listening to the other person intently but are rather thinking of what you will say and what your questions and concerns are.  While doing this, you filter everything through your own life’s history, through your own personal frame of reference.  The better method is what Dr. Covey calls empathic listening.  The key to empathic listening is genuinely seeking the welfare of the person to whom you are listening.  In other words, you really must want to understand where the person is coming from.  This extra effort can result in a transformative experience that really solves problems rather than sticking a bandage on a symptom.  Another major benefit of empathic listening is that once you start the process, the other person is much more likely to listen to your ideas.  This is critical in forming win-win solutions to problems.

Confronting Racism

The American criminal justice system is racist in its outcomes.  To deny that is to deny incontrovertible facts and the basic laws of statistics.  There is a lively debate in the academic literature as to whether these outcomes are caused by overt racism, implicit bias, or systematic bias that is built into our institutions.  The most logical answer is “all of the above.”  We know from the Baltimore report, from the aftermath of Ferguson, that individual racism exists within some American police departments and that it is often tolerated by leadership.  To cast the blame solely on macroeconomic forces is to shirk responsibility.

In most places where we bother to look, we find that officers disproportionately stop African-American pedestrians and drivers. In Baltimore, for example, the Department of Justice found that BPD stopped African-American residents three times as often as white residents.  The impact of this disproportionate contact was not isolated. “In each of BPD’s nine police districts, African Americans accounted for a greater share of BPD’s stops than the population living in the district. And BPD is far more likely to subject individual African Americans to multiple stops in short periods of time. In the five and a half years of data we examined, African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals BPD stopped at least 10 times.”  The report goes on to examine the case of one African American man (in his mid-fifties) that was stopped 30 times within a four-year period.  This may lead one to wonder what heinous crimes this individual committed.  The shocking answer is that despite these repeated unwelcome encounters, none of the 30 stops resulted in so much as a citation.

Despite a focus on “racial profiling” training across the country in recent decades, “driving while black” is still an offense in many jurisdictions.  As the Justice Department found in Baltimore, “BPD also stops African American drivers at disproportionate rates. African Americans accounted for 82 percent of all BPD vehicle stops, compared to only 60 percent of the driving age population in the City and 27 percent of the driving age population in the greater metropolitan area.”  The training, it seems, isn’t having much of an effect.  Training is not likely to have an impact on behavior until the culture that permits and even encourages such practices is changed.

The most common justification officers make for such practices is that minorities actually commit more crimes, and thus race is an accurate predictor of criminal activity.  This is evidence of bias, not keen observation, and statistical skills as these biased officers would suggest.  Minority groups have been persecuted for so long that most members of those groups are more reluctant than whites to commit any infraction whatsoever.

The Justice Department found that Baltimore Police didn’t just stop African American pedestrians and drivers more often than whites (despite the fact that whites made up the majority of citizens that could have been stopped), they also disproportionately searches African Americans during those stops. Contrary to the “actual correlation” thesis often used to justify biased policing, analysis of data by the Justice Department revealed that searches of African Americans were less likely to discover contraband or evidence of crimes. “Indeed, BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops.”

The picture of racist policing continues to emerge as one moves through the Baltimore Report.  Racial disparities in BPD’s arrests were most pronounced for highly discretionary offenses.   African Americans accounted for 91 percent of the 1,800 people charged solely with “failure to obey” or “trespassing”; 89 percent of the 1,350 charges for making a false statement to an officer; and 84 percent of the 6,500 people arrested for “disorderly conduct.” The Investigators also found that prosecutors declined charges brought against African Americans at significantly higher rates than charges against people of other races.  It is difficult to reach any other conclusion that the standards for making arrests differed significantly by the race of the individual arrested.

Poor training in how to de-escalate conflicts and gain compliance results in needlessly aggressive approaches to police work.  This is compounded by the fact that white “alpha males” tend to be attracted to police work, and minorities and women are repulsed by the perceived culture.  Overly aggressive tactics unnecessarily escalate encounters, increase tensions, and lead to unnecessary force.  Officers often fail to de-escalate encounters when it would be reasonable to do so.  This is due in part to poor training and in part to a culture where this is the expectation.  Officers frequently resort to physical force when a subject does not immediately respond to verbal commands, even where the subject poses no imminent threat to the officer or others. These tactics result from a combination of insufficient training, insufficient guidance, and a culture that is permissive of aggressive, confrontational contact with citizens.  The obvious solution is to make a concentrated effort to reform the culture.  A major factor in this is to improve both racial and gender diversity within our police departments.

Racism is not the only crisis facing law enforcement in the United States today, even if it is the most newsworthy at times.  There is also a mental health crisis, and there is a growing recognition that police are ill-equipped to deal with it.  Officers often use excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis. Due to a lack of training and unfitting tactics, officers wind up in needlessly violent confrontations with these susceptible people. While some departments have made great strides in this area over the past decade, most departments still provide less effective services to people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities by failing to account for these disabilities.  BPD has failed to make reasonable modifications in its policies, practices, and procedures to avoid discriminating against people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Simply put, most American police departments do not employ effective community policing stratagems. Many departments have relationships with communities—or certain segments of the community—that are broken.  Often, departments serve two distinct communities.  There is an affluent section of the City that receives better services than its impoverished and minority neighborhoods. This fractured relationship exists in part because of a fundamental lack of vision for engaging with the community.  Instead, we often retain an antiquated system of bias and authoritarian strategies that have been passed down from one generation to the next.


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