Some interesting items on “professionalism” crossed my monitor this morning.
First up, an old article from Tom DeMarco: Professional awareness in software engineering. DeMarco describes a hierarchy of different conceptions of professionalism, but the thing that struck me as interesting is that DeMarco believes that true professionalism requires careful and continuous monitoring of one’s own behavior to make sure it meets an ethical standard:
There are no simple, general rules in ethics; ethics is about values and value conflict, philosophy and morality, and a willingness and capability to confront intricate and convoluted conundrums. The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule may get you to Heaven, but they won’t (all by themselves) make you an ethical promise-keeper. The only thing that will do that is to keep yourself in a permanent state of ethical introspection.
In order to make it clear what I mean by this introspection, consider its opposite. The most familiar form of this opposite is what I call:
THE FATAL PREMISE: Evil is done by evil people; I am not an evil person and therefore . . . I cannot do evil.
The Fatal Premise gives you an ethical blank check: If you did it, it must be OK.
It is my opinionated opinion that about half the world’s population believes the Fatal Premise. One who is governed by this premise is neither ethical nor unethical, but a non-participant. Such a person can never be a true professional, because his or her introspection mechanism is disarmed. The Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offers a counter to the Fatal Premise in the following quote:
The line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between classes nor between parties [individuals] either, but through the middle of every human heart.
To be an ethical human being you need to be aware of your capacity to be evil, your dark side. To the extent that it is our business to foster professionalism, we need to focus mostly on helping people get past the Fatal Premise so they can deal with the possibility of their own evil. Most meaningful evil on earth is done by good people, not by evil people. The capacity to do evil is in each one of us.
So, when he talks about how it is unprofessional to attribute evil to the other side, and thereby excuse yourself from the possibility of committing evil, were you thinking of the same person I was? I know it doesn’t sound quite right to say we need more “professional” politicians, but if you use DeMarco’s definition of the term then I think that’s exactly what we need.
Continuing in a somewhat-related vein, check out these interesting items from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo on the finger-pointing currently going on as the unprofessional folk currently running things in this country try to divert blame for the now-widely-recognized-as-wrong decision to disband the professional soldiers who made up the Iraqi army: here, here, and here.