In the 1998 thriller The Negotiator starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, Jackson plays Danny Roman, a typical “good cop” who upholds justice, protects the innocent, and is the best negotiator on the police force, even risking his own life to save people at times.
However, the story’s conflict quickly arises when Roman is framed for the murder of his partner and friend, after learning of a top-secret case involving money laundering that had the potential to become a public implication against their own colleagues. Before being apprehended, Roman takes his police chief hostage in an effort to force a confession, suspecting he is in on the dirty work.
Roman, once the esteemed negotiator among his peers, is now himself negotiating for his own life, demanding that he will only speak with Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), an outsider whom he believes is his only opportunity to escape the current dilemma alive. A trust that defies protocol is formed between Roman and Sabian as the psychological thriller unfolds, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats.
Have you ever thought about what makes a good crisis intervention negotiator? Take a look:
“The most successful attributes for a crisis negotiator are the ability to demonstrate empathy, utilize strong communication skills, and the need to have patience. A crisis negotiator can learn and practice good communication skills, but the other attributes are a function of the personality. Veteran officers and a number of female officers may have the personality traits that would be required of a successful negotiator.”–Major R. Laprel, Massachusetts State Police; personal communication, June 1, 2006.
Imagine, if you will, a man on the ledge and the utter absurdity of a negotiator standing on the ground shouting consequences upward into earshot of the man in order to remind him of the impending doom. “You know, if you jump, you do realize that your body will splatter all over the concrete–this, on national television and you will be a disgrace to your family for years to come, right?”
This potential consequence does not move the man’s will in the least, for it is something he already knows in his head, but his heart supersedes truth in this very irrational moment.
All at once, a man with a kinder voice steps out on that ledge with the conflicted soul. We’ve seen it a million times in the movies. “Hi, Sam. My name is John. I’m going to be here with you tonight. Sam it’s awfully cold out here, what do you say we step inside and have some hot chocolate where we can talk this out?”
“Okay, well, I’ll stay out here as long as you need to. In fact, you’re doing good Sam. I want you to even think about taking one step a little closer to the window with me, Sam. Things seem a little distorted from way up here. We need to get into your room so we can talk this problem through. It’s gonna be okay. That’s good Sam. We are going to take one more step.”
Sam closes his eyes. “I can’t do it. I can’t. I won’t.”
Before long, the baby steps that John has inspired in Sam have caused him to move as near to the window as he can be without actually going inside. There’s something about John that Sam wants to trust, though he doesn’t understand why he is letting his guard up for this total stranger, but after all, he IS out on the ledge.
You see, like real life crisis intervention, it takes a unique personality to be a John to the weary and wounded. When it comes to a friend in trouble, what kind of crisis intervention negotiator are you? Are you an interrogator? A blemish-hater? A truth-spouter? A hammer? (Gosh, I hope not a hammer). Or are you more like John, possessing a quality that lays out truth and inspires hope in the darkness? What is it about John that causes Sam to get into the window?
In today’s society, those who can speak truth into someone’s life while waiting patiently for those baby steps toward the window are few and far between. Finally, Sam’s baby steps back into the safe world he knows allow John to stand by his side in a more stable dwelling.
There is beauty in being this kind of friend to someone. Every screenplay with a good ending to a hostage situation shows the freeing of hostages or handing over of a weapon, but mainly the will being surrendered in some form or fashion…the troubled soul chooses life over death. This is the kind of friend I long to be as I thank God for those who would ever dare step out on that ledge with me in my own time of need.
We should all strive to see beyond the faults in others and exercise enough compassion to step out on the ledge when that opportunity comes our way, for in doing so, this will become a litmus test of our own human hearts and reveal a few rough edges that we never knew were there. In turn, the hostage inside of ourselves is also released.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. –Romans 5:8
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper. Follow Brandi on Twitter @BrandiChambless