Persons and Professionals

The professional is first and last a person, with moral responsibilities, virtues, and vices; he or she enjoys a personal relationship with friends, family, and members of society at large before he or she can be a professional with the responsibilities that follow. As the professional remembers the qualities and virtues that make for good personal character, the public service of the professional life will flourish. These personal qualities and virtues focus on the individual client, the reputation of the profession, and the service of the community. It used to be called a “vocation.” With this in mind, it behooves the professional to pay attention to the quality of his or her personal life.

Luciano Giubbilei is a distinguished garden designer who created the Laurent-Perrier Gardens for the 2009, 2011, and 2014 Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Shows. When asked by Helen Gazeley in a 2011 interview how he had come to design such peaceful, lively, and moving gardens (literally and emotionally), he replied that his gardens were the product of self-knowledge as much as study and professional skill (Giubbilei, 2011). Lord Adebowale, the chief executive of Turning Point, believes that leadership is a state of mind, not a set of characteristics. Success depends on the culture of personal relationships within an organization, for when properly developed, they lead to the distribution of leadership—a point of view that is counterintuitive to the Western mind. William Kendall, who revitalized the chocolate manufacturer Green and Black and the New Covent Garden Soup Company, says that success involves the chief executive falling in love with what he or she is doing (Frearson, 2014).

In other words, personal passion matters. It is certainly true that a student has little chance of making progress without love for the subject he or she is studying. These insights are universally applicable, whether one is thinking of an artist, a businessman, or a dentist: selfknowledge is fundamental to good practice. The professional is first and last a person who needs to be nourished if he or she is to succeed professionally.

When we accept with grace what we have received from the efforts of those in whose traditions we stand, we begin to understand that our responsibility is not simply to those for whose care we are immediately accountable but, through the legacy we leave, to the well-being of future generations. Put in this way, the responsibilities of every professional person are truly daunting. What is more, it underlines the fact that mere compliance is an inadequate conduit for a living tradition. Indeed it might be said to be impossible and, as Lord Denning averred, stultifying.

In the British Common Law tradition, a judge does not simply apply the law in determining the outcome of a case; he takes personal responsibility for interpreting the law and taking the offending person into account. Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, did this most publicly and controversially: “What is the argument on the other side? Only this, that no case has been found in which it has been done before. That argument does not appeal to me in the least. If we never do anything that has not been done before, we shall never get anywhere. The law will stand still while the rest of the world goes on; and that will be bad for both” (Denning, 1954, p. 15 at 22). In fact, even statute laws and regulations published by the Executive require intelligent understanding and thoughtful application within a tradition.

Wherever we stand in society, tradition confirms that we are not alone as persons or as professionals: our sense of self is that of a “self in relation.” John Macmurray puts it like this: “We need one another to be ourselves” (Macmurray, 1961, p. 211). He develops this theme in his Gifford Lectures for 1952 and 1954: “The simplest expression I can find for the thesis I have tried to maintain is this: All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship” (Macmurray, 1991, pp. 14-15).

To be ourselves is to be aware of others and to want our friendship to make a difference to their lives. Hence, when we are grateful for what we inherit and for everything we enjoy—education, health, food and well-being—we cannot help but also be aware that there are others in our society who are less favored and in need one way or another, hence the particular emotion of compassion to which gratitude gives rise.

Compassion is a comprehensive, crucially significant dimension of human experience; the lack of it dehumanizes and separates persons whose real lives will only be realized in relationships. Donne’s familiar lines express this perfectly:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main. (Donne, 1946, p. 538)

Many of us (especially in the West) lack gratitude for our inheritance and seem to believe that it is a virtue to strive to make ourselves self-sufficient. Emotionally, and therefore really, it is impossible; one simply loses touch with reality. Macmurray again says, “Individual independence is an illusion; and the independent individual, the isolated self, is a nonentity” (Macmurray, 1961, p. 211). Those who try to cut themselves off from their past experience an analogous fate. Without context, they are profoundly alone and are likely to flounder for lack of support and experience a consequent loss of selfhood.

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