Monday, January 24, 2011

Responsibilty to Your Profession

A reader wrote in with a very interesting observation on his attitude to his professional identification. Here is what he has to say:
I guess this is a fundamental difference between our perceptions of reality. You see, I'm always a professional accountant. No matter where, when or what I'm doing - I represent my field. Therefore, I am acutely aware of the impact my words and actions have.

I find this very interesting because as somebody who doesn't identify with any group for any reason I don't feel this way at all. In my view, people who bring their professional identification with them everywhere they go run the risk of offering their professional services where they are neither needed nor appreciated. I'm sure all of us have met one of those medical professionals who can't get through a meal with friends without lecturing everybody on how bad their food choices are for their health. Or insurance agents who approach everybody at a party to ask whether they have enough insurance.
However, I would like to hear from my readers on this subject. Do you feel responsible for the image of your profession? Do you feel that you represent it wherever you go? Are you sometimes afraid your actions might reflect poorly on the profession at large? Or that a colleague's actions might make people think less of you as a representative of the profession?
Help out an identity-challenged person (me!) and share your experiences in this area.


eric said...

I am a librarian by profession, but at home, none of my books, CD's, DVD's, or records are in any particular order on their respective shelves. Sorry, can't help you there!

Patrick said...

Interesting perspective: a couple of counterpoints, though.

1) The doctor - what do you think of a doctor that you see outside the hospital having a smoke? In all honesty, every time you witness that, a little bit of respect for the profession as a whole is whittled away.

2) Insurance agents - again, how much confidence do you have in their professional opinion if you witness them driving around town without a seat belt; or if they are arrested for drag racing in town?

What about all the politicians we've witnessed over the years and their abysmal behaviour? Do you honestly think there is no correlation between that behaviour and the lack of public confidence in elected officials?

A recurring theme in dismissing faith organizations is the abysmal behaviour of people like Jim Swaggart and Jim & Tammy Faye.

I know I'm being judged every second of every day - how I treat the homeless man on street, how I parent my child, how I treat my wife, how I behave in the office. And I know that I contribute to the stereotypes people build up or tear down in their minds. I cannot walk away from that responsibility.

Shedding Khawatir said...

For me, the interesting part of a question like this, and indeed the discussion of collective identities in general, is the tension between self-identification and prescribed identification. While you may not identify with your profession everywhere you are, that doesn't stop other people from identifying you as such, and interpreting your actions as such. Even if you specifically state that you are not identifying as such and such in this situation, or that you do not identify with this group at all (say national identity), the fact that you can be prescriptively placed in this group means that some people will always interpret all of your actions as such, regardless of whether you wish them to. Now, I am not saying that anyone should bow to these prescribed identities or change their actions because of them, although certainly some people may choose to. Rather, I just wanted to point out that as much as we may consider our identities our own, and wish for them to be under our control, and to refute prescriptive collective identities, this right is rarely granted. After all, it is no accident that most collective identities are based on physical appearance or questions that will ordinarily be answered within the first few minutes of meeting someone.

Anonymous said...

I'd prefer a smoker doctor. At least you know he knows his own mind and is independent enought o make his own decisions (or hers). Anybody is better than a professional who's incapable of acting or thinking independently.

Just my own 2 cents, of course.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have known Episcopal priests who felt that it would disturb some people if they EVER went outside their homes without a clerical collar. I never fully understood this.

Nevertheless, I am aware that being a mathematician, and in particular a topologist, affects my day to day thinking and interacting with others. For example, I discount things people say if it is clear that they are confusing a statement with its converse, a difference that I think everyone should pay attention to to avoid being misled. It is not something I want to change.

I think, though, that being a Pagan, specifically a polytheist affects me more strongly day to day.

I am also someone who would rather read than watch a movie, and I strongly identify with others who feel the same way.

So, my profession does have an effect, but it is only one of a bouquet of effects on my identity.

Liese4 said...

Well, as a homeschooler (please don't say this belongs in the post on homeschooling, this is my profession in response to the question), I definitely have people questioning my profession. They single my children out and question them on varying topics, getting frustrated when my children answer correctly (and they never start off with simple questions.)

People expect that my home will be in constant disarray from being home 24/7 with 4 children, they are surprised when it is not. People think we stay inside all day and are bewildered to find us gone most afternoons. People expect that I will be a religious fanatic or hand sew all my clothing - either is very far from the truth.

I carry my homeschooling with me wherever I go because we learn all the time. Most people that we approach in the real world are more than happy to show my children what they do for a living or answer their questions. This is part of how we homeschool - we learn new things every day. Some people might find that intrusive, but like I said, most people are willing to give information to us about their work, lives, religion, culture, food, clothing or schooling.

So, yes I most definitely represent homeschooling, but like your borscht soup, it's what each family puts in the soup that makes us unique. My homeschooling looks very different from the lady up the street, and that's a good thing.

And yes, I feel that fellow homeschoolers can give me a bad name, just like when bullets fly in a public school and everyone wants to say how bad they are; one homeschooler can ruin public opinion for the rest of us. Good thing I don't pay much mind to public opinion!

Liese4 said...

"I am a librarian by profession, but at home, none of my books, CD's, DVD's, or records are in any particular order on their respective shelves. Sorry, can't help you there!"

Hah! That's like my husband, a computer tech, shying away from any computer problem at home.

Canukistani said...

Originally I was going to make a comment based on the fact that I’m a licensed professional belonging to a government regulated college but then PT mentioned religion in general and Episcopalian clergy in particular. I was an Episcopalian clergy spouse for twenty years and she never wore a clerical collar except in a sacramental role. If you want to get into a theological argument about the ontological versus functional nature of priesthood, we can go in that direction.

Shredder said “For me, the interesting part of a question like this, and indeed the discussion of collective identities in general, is the tension between self-identification and prescribed identification.” This is certainly true for clergy. I got the Anglican, the diocesan newspaper, today. As always I turn to the appointments section first and see where clergy are moving. The fascinating ones are folks who are moving from city to country. There is a general expectation that one starts one career by going – in illa quae ultra sunt (“into those regions which are beyond”) and progress into the more civilized urban areas. The rusticated or in more colloquial terms, ecclesiastical road kill, go in the opposite direction. They see themselves as digressing from an association with latté sipping, urban elitist liberals to quaffing a glass of Wild Turkey with a redneck while outside packs of feral dogs run howling in the dark. Yes, we have real rednecks in Canada. After the American Civil War, Canada was packed out with hardcore confederates who refused to surrender. Take Jefferson Davis. He was jailed by the union forces in 1865 and released in 1867. One week after release he went to Quebec where his family had moved and his kids were going to school in Montreal. A week later he went to confederate reunion in Toronto. Sometimes in the country if you really know someone and after a few drinks, they’ll mutter about the War of Northern Aggression. Personally I liked the country although there have been moments. One of the duties of the clergy spouse or unpaid curate was to type the Sunday church bulletin and I was to type an entry that read “Open session on church school.” Unfortunately I typed an entry which read “Open season on church school.”


Last Sunday the sermon was on our stewardship of God’s dominion. When I went up to receive communion, I noticed that the label on the altar’s kneeler said “made in china” and “100% foam rubber”. Canonically speaking, the proper filler for a kneeler is the hair from a virgin, white mare. Now I realize that the probability of any sort of virgin mare running around China is low but couldn’t they have some labelling system like certified organic. I prefer to contemplate the eternal and reducing my carbon footprint knelling on the product of His bounty rather than chemically modified petroleum by-products.


I’m in a humorous mood today but my comment on your Fox news in Canada is REALLY important and time dependent.

Pen said...

I certainly don't feel responsible for the image of a student. I like to learn--not all students do.

As a specific type of student, however, I might feel differently. While I don't feel that I can ever accurately represent anything (thank you, psychology!), there are times when I feel responsible for upholding a certain standard. For example, I'm enrolled in two bands. In each, I am a) the only student my age on a specific instrument, and b) the lead player of my section. Everyone follows me; my peers look up to me. Therefore, I feel responsible for the image of a lead player, and as a musician as a whole, when I practice. When I don't practice (or rather, if I haven't practiced for an extended period of time), then yes, I do feel that my actions reflect poorly on the rest of the band. Because any musical group is only as great as its weakest musician, and (especially as a section leader), I don't want to be the weakest link.

And again in that scenario, I do believe that people, when they don't practice, make the whole band look bad. That doesn't mean that I look bad when the person sitting next to me doesn't practice; instead, the whole group is downgraded. It's a very humiliating experience, and the only one like it I've ever had.

But outside of this microcosmic scenario, I've never really felt these things. I don't identify with many groups, and those I do identify with are too individualized for me to feel that I represent anything at all, let alone feel responsible for it.

Meredith said...

As an aspiring attorney, I'm very conscious of my words and their impact--word meaning and selection is so incredibly important. I also have a professional code to uphold, even starting now as a law student, and so I'm mindful of that as well.