Saturday, June 25, 2011

Principles Vs. Professionalism

Every one of us has our own principles, most of which are derived from our religion and from the way we are brought up. When the situations force us to change our long-established principles, it leads to confusion and unhappiness. ‘Professionalism’ (Being an IT professional, in specific) is one in the list which conflicts some principles. To make my stand on this unusual topic clear, here is an anecdote from a book.

Many years ago, a rider came across some soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log without success. The corporal was standing by, as the men struggled. The rider asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping. The corporal replied, “I am the corporal. I give orders.” The rider dismounted, went up to the soldiers and helped them lift the log. With his help, the log got moved. The rider quietly mounted his horse and went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the Commander-in-Chief.” After he left, the corporal and his men found out that the rider was George Washington. Success and humility go hand in hand. Simplicity and humility are two hallmarks of greatness.

These kind of stories sound good to the ears and if they match the pulse of the reader, simplicity and humility can become his/her principles. Professionalism completely opposes the principle of humility. I came to this conclusion in my college days itself. Once, a HR manager from a software firm gave a presentation in an event held in my college. After the event was over, I helped him disconnect his laptop (upon the instruction of TPO) and took it with the intention of giving it to him in his car which was just outside the door of the auditorium. He said in a stern voice, ‘Never demean yourself by carrying someone’s luggage.’ I was into a rude shock. I intended to help him, but he looked at the situation as a 'professional'.

As another example, assuming that we see a housekeeping staff struggling to place the water can on the water dispenser, if we help him, we would be considered ‘unprofessional’. If we want to be called ‘professional’ in this case, we should be like the corporal in the story. People, for whom simplicity, humility and such qualities are principles from their childhood, find it difficult to accept this total contrast.

The next principle here is respect towards elders. Most of us were taught to call our elders as sir or madam or brother or sister etc. etc. (This is as per our nation’s pledge – All Indians are my brothers and sisters… Of course, conditions apply. :D). It is believed to be the way to show our respect towards elders. Professionalism does not take age into consideration. Anyone working for the common goal of an organization is equal. So, we have to address anyone by name, even if he is of the age of a grandfather. :) This is totally out of phase with the general principle.

People with "Be yourself" principle also find conflict with professionalism. There may be more such principles which create the situation of “Principles versus Professionalism”. So, when there are such conflicts, which one should we follow? Should we give up our deep-rooted principles? Or should we be adamant in accepting the change? I don’t have any answer to this question. Keeping personal life and professional life separate, is a compromise between the two. However, isn’t it difficult to ‘act’ as a ‘professional’? Will it not end up in unhappiness? Further, is it not practically difficult to keep them separate? These questions remain unanswered to me.

Recently,I called my lecturer and addressed him by his name. Thank God! I at least realized it immediately and said ‘Sir’ with a slight pause after his name. How would he have felt had I not realized it then? When this kind of incidents happen, when people criticize us for following our principles and when we are tagged ‘unprofessional’ because of possessing ‘Be yourself’ attitude, what should we do? As for me, in the game of 'Principles Vs. Professionalism', I always wish that 'Principles' win, but 'Professionalism' grabs the win at times. :) 6WXQHNBATM44