Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just be professional...it's not that hard

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in my local sheriff's office citizens' academy. After sitting through six weeks of law enforcement demonstration and opinion, I believe the experience brought realism to my writing. Out of all the personnel I met during this time, there was one sergeant who impressed me above anyone else and her words still resonate with me to this day.

Just be professional, it's not that hard.

Sadly, I can't remember her name, but I took note of her words. She was a twenty-year veteran of the sheriff's office, and as this beautiful Hispanic woman stood before the class and explained that she worked in the jail -- unarmed -- among male inmates, I thought, Holy cow, this lady won't live long. Silly me. She'd worked among them for years. What's more, she was required to turn her back on this criminal element -- often.

For anyone who's been in a jail, you know there's intense security and surveillance, and the deputies can call upon immediate assistance. But knowing this didn't make me feel better. I kept thinking she could be injured or dead before help could arrive.

Turns out she hadn't made sergeant for nothing and understood the risks. What's more, she carried herself with amazing grace and an even more amazing sense of who she was. She didn't look tough on the outside, but as she called one six-foot naysayer to the front, she brought him down with such ease it filled me with a whole new appreciation and respect for who she was and what she did for a living.

After she dropped my classmate to his knees, she modestly helped him up and shook his hand. Then she turned to the class and said, "Just be professional, it's not that hard."

She also went on to explain that as a Hispanic female charged with watching over incarcerated inmates, it oftentimes presented problems. Particularly, when many of those inmates were Hispanic and grew up in households in which men did not take orders from women. So not only did the sergeant face an authority issue, she encountered a cultural barrier.

How did she handle it? By treating everyone with respect. "Those men don't know me," she said. "Their slurs and insults can't reach me. When my shift ends I go home to my family and the opinions that count."

So why do I tell you this story? Because today I'm seeing exactly what she talked about -- a reduction in professionalism. Worse, we are not inmates. I'm seeing dry wit replaced by so-called snarkiness (I have another term for it). What's more, often this type of behavior is applauded. In an on-line society, where we are faceless individuals behind a computer screen, it's so easy to react and push send and forget there's a real live, flesh and blood human being on the other side.

I recently listened to a radio ad in which two actors portrayed school-aged girls, one of whom said the most horrible things to her peer. I sat back stunned, thinking what on earth? Then at the end of the message, the voice over said, "You wouldn't say it to their face, why would you say it on line?"

I don't know about you, but for anyone to even feel the need to air such a public service announcement made me incredibly sad. As for me, I hope to follow the sergeant's advice and take her words to heart. I'll strive for professionalism. I learned from the very best that it's not that hard.


Leslie Ann said...

Hi Donnell,
As you know I feel very strongly about professionalism in the workplace, in email, on a blog, just about anywhere. It's vital in my opinion, so life doesn't become a rats-nest of gossip and worse, unease.

Life in general could be a whole bunch nicer if we could just remember the golden rule, "do unto others...." I'm not preaching here, just being a cockeyed optimist--wasn't that from South Pacific?


Rachel said...

That was so beautifully put!

Edie said...

Well said, Donnell! My husband and I have been watching Project Runway. Early in today's show, one of the designers said something directly to the camera about "the *bleep* judges."

I was shocked that he'd be so unprofessional -- and stupid. He ended up being the one who went home. His design was the worst, I'm thinking his attitude had something to do with it too.

Donnell said...

Hi, Leslie Ann, Rachel and Edie, thanks for your support of my position. I felt pretty strongly about it. Edie, I think Project Runway and shows like it may actually seek out this type of behavior for ratings. They certainly caught it on camera, didn't they? I enjoy competitions as well as the next person. I hope that entrant learned something from the experience. Maybe he'll try a more professional approach next time; he'll obviously be remembered for the lack thereof.

Mary Marvella said...

I so agree with you. We can act like children or we can at like adults. Words are power but we must use them the right way for that power. I watch so many people do and say things intended to intimidate. What a waste!

Edie said...

Actually they pick the Project Runway contestants for their talent. Some of the stuff they do on a limited time and sometimes with weird materials is amazing. The show is more about the project they're working on than their sensational personalities, although they can be catty. That's the first I've heard a contestant talk about the judges like that.

Donnell said...

Nice to know, Edie, thanks for redeeming the show :) Some of the fashions they design are incredible, I've only watched it a few times, however.

Karin* said...

great post, donnell. i get so weary of rude people.