It’s said law enforcement officers are to be revered because they “put their lives on the line every day for our safety.” Moving past debate on the quality of the public safety provided, “putting their lives on the line” is simply one of many job duties for a law enforcement officer.

This being killed on the job, it’s not a closely guarded secret withheld from future officers while at the academy, revealed only at graduation:

“Here’s your gun, your badge … oh, and we really didn’t cover this in class, but part of the job is you’ll be putting your life on the line every day. Make sure the public knows this. Now go get the bad guys, Tiger!”

If law enforcement officers were drafted into service like military troops there’s an argument to be had for lauded heroic status. But that’s not the case. Recruits know full well that being killed on the job is an expected risk. Recruits make a conscious decision to enter the academy and doing so are knowingly taking on the risk and are knowingly accepting the risk.

For a paycheck because it’s a job duty.

I got to mulling this over in my mind today because I mulled over a similar accolade bestowed upon frontline medical providers. This occurred during the pandemic lockdown in response to frontline medical workers treating patients with covid-19. The providers were proclaimed heroes, and it was stated often and repeated to the point of reflexive rhetoric. We must extoll the heroism of frontline medical providers because “they put their life on the line every day for our safety.” My thought is the same as for law enforcement officers, that it’s a knowing and accepted part of the job. It’s a job duty to put their life on the line every day. Frontline medical providers weren’t forced into service; they purposely chose the job and assumed the risks.

It just feels odd to celebrate specific professionals for just doing their job. Being an accountant or a barista or a geologist isn’t as flashy as law enforcement officers or frontline medical providers. Still, these less flashy professionals also go to work every day – to check and double check funds, to provide beverages, and to do something or the other with rocks – and they’re expected to do their job duties without soliciting public awe. If just going to work every day and performing expected job duties is heroic, then that particular accolade gets watered down really quickly.

Is it admirable putting your life on the line every day for our safety? Sure, I’m good with offering some admiration. There’s this discomfort, though, of the built-in expectation of being more-than-admired – heroic, some might hyperbolically say – for doing the duties of a job chosen with complete personal action and decision, and with full foreknowledge of the risks.

Law enforcement officers and frontline medical providers can always choose a different profession if dying for a paycheck is distasteful.

A bit flippantly, a measure of being a successful law enforcement officer or frontline medical provider who’s good at their chosen profession is when every day they don’t die on the job. Good job staying alive! It’s recognized professional acumen, this not dying today but maybe tomorrow, but that stops short of being validated as heroic, for the reasons established. As an option, my professional bias is geology, and if the risky job duty of every day potentially of dying on the job is unacceptable, just know the world will always need people to look at rocks and do stuff with rocks.

So next let’s chat about the hero worship of pro athletes whose most heroic job duty is throwing a ball really good.