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Excerpt from "In The Mind of A Mountie" by T.M. 'Scotty' Gardiner

Chapter 131: Seeking the Common Denominator

As I progressed with these writings and reviewed the support material, I found myself asking periodically, 'was there a common denominator throughout my own work and that of those successful members with whom I was associated?'

This thought intensified in the more recent years because of increasing numbers of disciplinary measures, necessitated by controversial actions conducted by members of the Force, received wide publicity and criticism. This reached a climax with the resignation of the Commissioner in 2007 -- the first Commissioner to do so amid controversial circumstances in the history of the Force. [Commissioner Nicholson's resignation March 31st, 1959 was under totally difference circumstances: his decision to send RCMP members to assist the then-under-strain Newfoundland Police was over-ruled by the Federal Government, this the Commissioner interpreted as a form of non-confidence in his administration and he resigned.]

The turmoil that had surrounded the Commissioner in 2007 brought the appointment of a civilian Commissioner who had no policing experience, again a first since the Force's creation. Then followed in February of 2008, a resignation by a Deputy Commissioner again amid tumultuous publicity. Such senior leadership resignations can create serious morale concerns to all subordinates in rank. Publicity indicated these concerns extended well beyond the members of the Force. Public ridicule rose to an extreme high -- public respect and support dropped to a tragic low.

I concluded there was a common denominator. Necessary but not confined to my police work, it has widespread application throughout all walks of life. It was the subject of a paper I submitted to senior management in late 1974. I prepared the paper because of my perception that very senior levels were allowing a creeping lessening in our code of conduct in the Force. I foresaw many difficulties if this continued. I saw this would seriously erode the public confidence and time-proven disciplinary standards upon which the Force had existed and upon which its reputation was founded. Laws, rules, regulations, policies, lectures all held importance, they all had their place. But one crucial, unwritten ingredient remained: self-discipline. Self-discipline, self-discipline and integrity -- the intuitive qualities that ensure reasoned, analytical, sober, truthful, righteous judgment underpin all proper decision-making.

I titled my paper The Need For Self-Discipline. Its topic was designed to raise awareness about an issue which during my service throughout the ranks and as a Service Court Trial Officer I perceived as seriously unhealthy. Towards the conclusion I documented an observation: 'Let us ensure that those placed in supervisory positions truly supervise. The alternative, unwanted but potential, is for supervision from non-Force civilian authority.' Thirty-three years following submission of that paper my prophesy came true -- the Commissioner's resignation and the appointment of a civilian Commissioner in 2007 and in 2008 the creation of a Federal panel to implement RCMP reforms!

It is my opinion the combination of self-discipline and personal integrity is so often the deciding factor -- the common denominator -- that guides success versus failure throughout all human activity. I have therefore chosen to conclude this book by reproducing that paper conveying my concerns to senior management. In it, to emphasize my concern, I presented the subject from several perspectives. My repeated reference to 'men' was because female members had (in 1974) only recently been accepted. The subject has of course, equal application to both sexes. I believe the quest for self-discipline and integrity is as topical today as it was when I wrote about it in 1974 -- indeed I deem it has everlasting value.


The Need For Self-Discipline

Ingrained within society is a continuous desire for change. This has been evident throughout history, where venturesome people engaged in battle, discovered new lands or designed inventions for the betterment of mankind. With each succeeding decade, the horizons of change were enlarged. Every aspect of life became either directly or indirectly affected. In the recent past, achievements such as human organ transplants and outer space explorations are evidence of the phenomena of change.

A close analysis of those people in the forefront of change reveals that they have much in common with their stolid peers. Social, educational and often geographical backgrounds are similar. Daily likes and dislikes follow close patterns. Political and religious philosophies may be alike and desires for a normal productive and rewarding life may bear a close relationship.

What then is the differentiating element -- that one quality that identifies the wholesome progressive and successful life from the masses where mediocrity prevails? Many theories can be advanced, each one no doubt warranting due consideration. Above all, however, serious thought must be given to the element of self-discipline. That is the singular quality evident in every stratum of society. It prevails within the individual and identifies him when every other quality has withered and died. Self-discipline, the moral duty to one's conscience, holding a stature tall and erect, ensures success of character when all else has failed.

The Force, our Force, has just completed a remarkable 100 years. Achievements and successes have been etched within the pages of history for all time. Exploits of individual members have become legend. Hardships, the frigid climate of our northern outposts, vast distances, the need for outstanding physical and mental endurance and even death itself, have been our constant companions. The Force has faced hostile challenges, it has met the subtleties of organized crime, the wrath of an uninformed and misinformed public, and it has tasted the bitterness of dismay, rejection and frustration. Still, it has attained world-wide renown. In one sense this is a paradox: in the other, a true example of self-discipline enjoying its lead role in a complex theatre performance of life itself.

To understand true self-discipline, all frivolity and shallow attitudes must be cast aside. The concept which views discipline as punishment must be rejected. Ideas that place discipline in an identical category with hardship cannot be accepted. Any belief that discipline, and more specifically self-discipline, can be replaced with any other code of ethics is a falsehood. To discipline one's self is healthy. It necessitates self-denial in certain areas but not to a foolish degree. It is merely a form of conditioning, conditioning of the mental process to voluntarily adhere to a standard of conduct that projects beyond the written instruction and that the inner self knows to be correct. To the mature mind, this necessary standard becomes self-evident, be it required in our social behaviour or vocational pursuits. Employment that lends itself to statistical tabulation such as manufacturing or selling can set a purely quantitative level that is the accepted norm. In the police services, however, no such statistical goal applies. For this reason reliance upon the well-disciplined policeman to voluntarily achieve the necessary standard of work efficiency becomes vitally important.

Discipline within our Force has been a constant requirement. Its necessity becomes obvious with an assessment of the Force's structure and duties. Consider for one moment the magnitude of our geographic responsibilities. Within Canada we operate from approximately 650 Detachments. Externally, our operations are conducted from offices strategically placed in several foreign countries. Our duties likewise are vast and multitudinous. Federal laws, Provincial laws, international laws and a host of regulations and policy matters all combine to form our enforcement requirements. In essence, our operational responsibilities permeate every phase of old and modern law. A third and vitally important dimension of our work involves that which is unwritten: preventing crime, public relations work, mercy assistance, youth work and diverse community participation. All activity within or beyond Canada, regardless of hour, day or circumstance, is governed directly by the unique office of the Commissioner at Headquarters in Ottawa. With such vast responsibility it places in true perspective the need for our many instructions. But instructions alone will not suffice. Self-imposed discipline is essential and is evidenced by two specific instructions:

'A member should, therefore, by individual zeal, discretion and intelligence, endeavour to supply the unavoidable deficiency of particular instruction.' (Commissioner's Standing Order 1372)

'With respect to matters concerning which no written instructions exist, Detachment and Section members shall act intelligently in the best interests of the public and the Force without in every instance requiring direction. They shall be held responsible accordingly.' (Commissioner's Standing Order 1489)

It is clear that even in our finely-structured Force with its proud traditions and semi-militarization, the complexities of our duties prohibit issuing instructions for every situation encountered. To overcome any deficiency our Force's regulation-writers have used the words 'zeal,' 'discretion' and 'intelligence.' Are those not the very ingredients of discipline? Does not the well-disciplined person act with enthusiasm, act with sound judgement and exercise prudence? Enthusiasm, judgement and prudence are respectively synonymous with zeal, discretion and intelligence. Should our instructions not then give equal prominence to discipline, specifically and explicity self-discipline?

Within comparatively recent years our training facilities have been realigned and modernized, tailored to meet the needs of a contemporary society. Recruit training with its time-tables, studies, physical involvement and group-living structure generates within itself basic discipline codes. I have yet to encounter one serving or retired member who could not vividly relate the woe that befell a fellow-member in training who dared to transgress. At the basic training level there is fertile ground for instruction including instruction in self-discipline in the context of necessary conduct for learning, health reasons and a future career. But is discipline emphasized sufficiently well? Is it realized and explained by our training staff to our youthful trainees that the much-publicized modern freedoms and permissiveness can and will, if not held in proper check, create havoc to a promising and rewarding career? If it is not, it should be. These seeds of self-discipline should be planted in the trainee's mind in the earliest possible stage. If our culture has slipped, or is slipping into unsound habits of irresponsibility and carelessness, the Training Depot is a place where we can begin to mitigate these habits.

Having graduated, our trainees embark upon field training -- a time when the security of the lecture room and group association no longer exists. This can be a period of taxing adjustments. The recruit now finds himself somewhat isolated, placed often in a semi-remote area and filling a junior position among members of considerable experience. He may be the only member of single status with limited social pursuits. Such a period demands rigid self-discipline. If a solid grounding has not been attained at the Training Depot, the Detachment personnel must undertake the task. But what will the result be if the Detachment personnel are unable or unwilling to achieve an acceptable standard themselves? Can we expect any more of the trainee? It then becomes evident that suitable instruction be given at in-service training classes, an ideal medium through which to reach those operational personnel at an impressionable stage in their career. Not that I advocate lectures on discipline precede all other material, only that I advocate the topic bear equal importance. Through it, all other material will be more accurately received and more enthusiastically applied.

Reviewing the Senior NCO level, it becomes easy to generalize, and to automatically feel a strong sense of discipline exists. After all, this level of service commenced when a more rigid society prevailed. This, together with years of service and a wide spectrum of experience, would tend to stabilize the personality and develop a career conscious character. But has it? One is forced to consider the basic human desire for change. There is yet another very demanding influence -- one's own children. Society's freedoms have engulfed our youth with grandiose ideas at hurricane speeds. No longer do the old virtues receive unquestioned acceptance. Unfortunately, examples of the well-meaning police or similarly-disciplined fathers having alienated themselves from sons or daughters are all too common. Bombarded from such sources as the media, educationists, churches, government and professionals all extolling the virtues of new-found freedoms, the well-intending parent finds it extremely difficult to explain and command approval of his own life pattern or those aspects of proven worth. An easing of standards becomes inevitable. If that easement is permitted to a son or daughter, is it even slightly remarkable that a similar feeling would prevail towards a young and equivalent-aged recruit policeman? The answer is a simple NO.

The important point is that while a lessening of certain standards may be acceptable in given areas, very casual off-duty dress being one, other areas such as work performance must be retained at that singularly high level that has guaranteed our Force's existence for 100 years. This delicate balance is conducted exceedingly well by many men but I detect a distinct regression in the overall review. Such regression is permitted in the false belief that it is necessary and acceptable in contemporary times. This is disturbing because even if an aura of indifference appears on life's surface, authority, any authority and most certainly police authority is a prime target for criticism from all areas. Let there be the slightest lessening of alacrity in the police service and a demanding public cries for revenge -- a public whose support is as vital today as it was in the days of our formation. Can discipline play a role in our Senior NCO level? Can we channel this form of training and wealth of experience towards a better understanding of today's challenges? Indeed we can -- indeed we must!

No one will question the absolute necessity for discipline in the Commissioned ranks. The honour of having been selected from among our peers to fill the leadership roles, offer guidance and administer over our fellow members simultaneously brings a requirement for strict self-discipline. Various ingredients combine to make successful, though not necessarily popular, leaders but the outstanding quality is discipline. Having mastered the technique of discipline, moral authority automatically follows. To have the ability to command respect, not enforce it, is a treasured quality. It is also essential if true efficiency is to be achieved. Commanding respect is no more synonymous with promotion than the mistaken belief that elevation to a senior position makes one an expert in all matters upon which that new role must administer. Just as the recently-promoted Officer must discipline himself to undertake considerable extra study to equip himself for new responsibilities, so must the techniques of self-discipline be rigidly adhered to if the unfailing respect from subordinates is to be genuinely warranted. The point is basic: subordinates execute the senior's decisions or instructions, but the manner in which the senior is held will spell success or failure to any undertaking.

Our Force is privileged through legislative approval to be in possession of considerable sophisticated equipment. The value of such innovations, unavailable to most police forces (and here I speak of delicate laboratory equipment, or fingerprint filming processes, the C.P.I.C. computer and more recently the purchase of a helicopter), is inestimable. But such equipment by itself solves nothing. Technical developments are necessary but they are no substitute for discipline. It is those personnel into whose care equipment is entrusted that truly master the potential and create the results. Often highly and technically trained, those personnel must be relied upon without undue supervision. Faced in many instances with disappointing and frustrating tasks, it becomes essential that self-imposed discipline exist. With it, problems, no matter what the magnitude, are faced, adjustments made and solutions invented. Without it there will be confusion, dissatisfaction and costly delays.

As we embark upon our second century of public service, our Force must be prepared to face diverse, unexpected, critical challenges and temptations. These will come from within as well as from outside our Force. Not that we should or will fail in the face of challenges and temptations. What I envision are simply increasing pressures created by a world that is fast-moving, where communications from distant and remote areas is all but instantaneous and from a population that will unquestionably be more vocal towards the easing of authority than ever before. Weaving throughout this morass where there will exist hope and fear, contentment, greed, expectations and disillusionment, will be the disguised channels of organized crime at local, national and international levels.

To cope with our responsibilities, we will continue to recruit the youth of our country. But they will be the product of the environment. It would be sheer folly to suggest that our training programmes by themselves can by some magical formula engender within these youthful persons the stability and dedication so vital to the police services without some arguments being advanced. Even today there is evidence that the time-proven requirements of our Force are undergoing questioning, often for the sole satisfaction of creating change on the pretence of modernization. When there is so much advocacy for change even at senior government levels -- the narcotic drug laws, the parole system and less restrictive penal operations being examples -- we must expect a similar situation, albeit to a far lesser degree and in different areas within our very Force. Is this dangerous? No, it is not: if those of us privileged with the benefit of experience face each and every situation squarely, objectively and with the knowledge that our own self-disciplined characters can withstand scrutiny, particularly in those areas of moral life, dedication to the Force, attempts for self-improvement and a compassionate understanding of our fellow man.

The question arises: what must be done to ensure proper self-discipline is generated in, and practiced by, each member? It is obvious that the sense of discipline must be achieved early. Recruit training is the place to start. At that period the learning abilities are keen and the desire to succeed in a longed-for career are desperately high. Proper instruction that will maintain that delicate balance between youthful exuberance and mature stability can be introduced. There should be no fleeting reference to the subject. On the contrary, the need for discipline and its genuine character-building qualities, and the benefits thereof, must be accurately spelled out. It should be presented as an automatic requirement just as sleeping is -- without it, the body fails. It must also be presented in a manner that will not interfere with the normal and healthy pursuits of our youth, but still maintain exacting ethical standards in the face of ridicule and temptation.

Throughout field training the topic of discipline is easily perpetuated. Excellent examples to support all instruction will present themselves throughout daily duties. Understanding and restraint when handling unfortunate derelicts or aggravating circumstances, prompt meeting of engagements and deadlines, constant accuracy, proper grooming and speech, periods of reading for self-improvement, healthy recreation, wise selection of associates, enjoying the most from any posting -- the field is unlimited and it is vigorously interesting. Not that this is innovative, not that it is totally absent now. I am, however, of the opinion that these worthwhile endeavours are on the decline. Replacing them is a disturbing, nonchalant attitude that produces slovenliness both in spirit and work efficiency. If this trend exists, let us attack it while in the embryo stage when correction is the easiest. Let us ensure that those placed in supervisory positions truly supervise. The alternative, unwanted but potential, is for supervision from non-Force civilian authority.

With a career predominant in the operation role, my principal concern is to maintain a high level of efficient service to the public. I have witnessed and adjudicated in those areas where the lack of self-discipline created tarnish upon careers.

We must continue to develop for all ranks thinking men, inspired men who, with flexible philosophies, imagination and character, will accept the fact that self-discipline and not instruction ensures control. We can, and should, strive for professionalism. There must be a complete facing of facts, no side-stepping of issues, no alibis when the root of an issue can only be reached by an admission of error and a full understanding of any desired goal. Lines of discipline within our Force may be compared with the banks of a river -- between them flows a mighty force, but if the banks are breached, disaster is the inevitable consequence. In the heat of crises, policemen, being human, sometimes act with more passion that reason. I project self-discipline, mental and emotional maturity as the major stabilizing influence for all circumstances. Its importance, recognized many years ago and equally momentous today, was instrumental in the issuance of our Force's most valuable and interminable instruction:

'A real leader has learned one of the first lessons in leadership and that is the value of self-discipline. It may be a truism to say that until we can discipline ourselves we cannot discipline anyone else, but the truth is still the truth no matter how often it is repeated.' (Officer's Manual 1(6))



I believe the matter of self-discipline and high standards of integrity is as topical today as it was when I wrote about it 35 years ago -- indeed I deem it has everlasting value. This is the common denominator for a life of outstanding service. If readers can take away anything from my writings, I hope they will think deeply about self-discipline and integrity, and then nurture its development within themselves, and everyone they command, work with, and love.




Copyright 2010, T.M. Gardiner


Read about RESTORING R.C.M.P. CREDIBILITY in Scotty's Thoughts about What To Do.


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