My Point of View: Are We Getting Smarter?

Dec. 11, 2014
In the military and law enforcement, situational awareness is the cornerstone of self-preservation

It hardly seems possible judging by current events. As a society, we seem to be on a never-ending treadmill of stupidity that is reinforced nightly on the various cable news networks. If we are dumb enough to continue repeating the mistakes of our parents and grandparents, how can any rational human say we are indeed getting smarter?

But as unlikely as it seems, humans appear to be getting steadily more intelligent for at least 100 years. A recent study released out of the UK this fall substantiates respected researcher James Flynn’s finding made almost 30 years ago that social scientists still struggle to explain: IQ scores have been increasing steadily since the beginning of the 20th century. Flynn, a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, went on to examine intelligence-test data from more than two dozen countries and found that scores were rising by 0.3 point a year — three full points per decade. Nearly three decades of follow-up studies have confirmed the statistical reality of the global uptick, now known as the Flynn effect. And scores are still climbing.

I suppose my dilemma is that IQ is not necessarily related to what I consider to be the “smarts” quotient’s determining factor — common sense. When you get right down to it, as a manager or a leader of an organization, your “business intelligence” is linked directly to the common-sense decisions you make related to your personnel, your organizational mission and the partnerships you establish within and outside your organization.

So it stands to reason that having a solid grasp on your surroundings, a deep understanding of your organization’s place within the context of its community, along with an honest and introspective assessment of your own abilities creates the type of situational awareness that allows a leader to function in the present.

In the military and law enforcement, situational awareness is the cornerstone of self-preservation. For me, the definition is as simple as paying attention to what’s happening around you. Being situationally aware is a choice for most of us. But for those professionals in high-stress environments like security and law enforcement, it can be a life- or career-saver.

At a workshop I recently attended in Dallas, hosts Nicholas Stein, most recently the series producer for one of the highest rated series in the history of the National Geographic Channel — “Border Wars,” and Dave Derr, Ph.D. and police psychologist for the City of Dallas Police Department, discussed a growing trend in a sort of situational awareness referred to as “Mindfulness.”

According to Psychology Today magazine, Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

After a friend introduced Stein to mindfulness meditation and he read the book “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, he was a convert. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs are currently available in over 720 hospitals, clinics, and standalone programs nationwide and abroad. Now, both Stein and Derr are active proponents of empowering high-stress professionals in security and law enforcement to embrace the value of Mindfulness training.

Stein has spent time in Oregon working with police Lt. Richard Goerling at the Hillsboro Police Department to create one of the first comprehensive Mindfulness training programs for law enforcement. Goerling firmly believes that Mindfulness training promises to nurture the body, mind, and spirit of our police warriors, and he stresses that these are the ingredients for an effective police encounter and a battle-ready, empathic police officer.

When security and law enforcement are willing to work outside the box with techniques such as these, it helps me embrace the assumption that we are indeed getting smarter!

If you have any comments for Steve Lasky regarding this or any other security industry-related issue, please e-mail him at [email protected].

About the Author

Steve Lasky | Editorial Director, Editor-in-Chief/Security Technology Executive

Steve Lasky is a 34-year veteran of the security industry and an award-winning journalist. He is the editorial director of the Endeavor Business Media Security Group, which includes the magazine's Security Technology Executive, Security Business, and Locksmith Ledger International, and the top-rated website He is also the host of the SecurityDNA podcast series.Steve can be reached at [email protected]