The dangers of professionalism

What possible dangers may professionalism – this virtue that Americans so much admire, idealize, and yearn – have? Indeed, professionalism seems to be the most perfect way to deal with things in life. It is protective, unquestionable, safe, and impeccable. Professionalism, however, despite all of its strength and protective factors, can easily turn into an evil tool if not balanced with a sufficient does of humanism.

The Vitruvian Man (L’Uomo Vitruviano) by Leonardo da Vinci

Professionalism operates on the basis of blindness: it is rigidly blind to everything that does not serve professional purposes. It requires one to ignore, avoid, and reject every aspect and phenomenon that does not directly or indirectly serve the purposes of one’s professional objectives. No personal favors, exceptions, weaknesses, or leaks will be ever allowed. Actually, nothing that un-serves professional interests will be ever contemplated or approved. The unquestionable advantages of such blindness are evident: the interests of the workplace will be unconditionally represented and served. An exaggeration of this approach, however, will necessarily result in the forgetting that we are humans rather than robots, and that it is the work that is for us rather than us being for the work. He who is highly professional achieves his goals. He who is overly professional ignores that he has goals.

Such tendency of forgetting about being humans is a preferred method of compensation among those with unsuccessful private lives. Many tend to compensate for their personal shortcomings with an increased dedication to and preference for work. While that will not heal their wounds, it will at least direct their attention away from their misery and towards their professional excellence. For these people, there will be no such thing as a professional courtesy. Their blind sort of professionalism will consider any favor and personal inquiry as human weakness undermining and debilitating professional interests and goals. Ironically, however, forgetting about being humans and dedicating ourselves to such pseudo-professionalisms will only worsen our personal situation by making us lose more and more friends and opportunities of being fully humans. It will only consolidate our personal misery and increase the threat from which we are running away in the first place. We will become successful but miserable, sad robots. Professional but pathetic individuals. Perfectly accomplishing, maybe even highly admired but lifeless, empty, blind, rigid, inflexible machines.

Indeed, establishing a balance between professionalism and humanism seems to be a desired objective. Yet finding just enough professionalism and still retaining our humanism is a tough challenge. When to say yes? When to say no? Until which point should we rigidly represent the interests of our work at the expense of human inquiries? While no easy and one-size-fits-all answers can be given to such questions, maybe true professionalism is the ability to balance wisely between man and machine, generosity and meanness, interest and goal, yes and no.

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