Every semester without fail, my classmates and I begin each new graduate course in much the same way – by taking turns sharing information about our professional backgrounds as they relate to that particular class and the master’s program as a whole. While this is a helpful and appropriate way for our professors to get to know us, I’ve also recently found myself in social situations where friends and relatives are instantly judged, for better or worse, primarily on the basis of their job titles and professional roles.
Though someone’s chosen career path is often a good reflection of her interests, talents and ambitions, judging someone’s worth primary on the basis of an arbitrary title or job position strikes me as being undoubtedly short-sighted. For one thing, in today’s economy, many skilled and determined people are either unemployed or underemployed at best. Furthermore, I’ve come to know plenty of individuals who may boast lofty titles and seemingly admirable qualifications when it comes to the work world, but who have demonstrated an incredible immaturity and cluelessness when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
|Someone's profession is only one piece of the puzzle defining who they really are. |
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As a case in point, while some of those I interacted with on Capitol Hill and elsewhere surely relished their high-ranking positions, they were also very often the first to treat their employees dismally, suffer severe dysfunction in their marriages, and battle ongoing problems like alcohol abuse. Are these the people we as a society want to uphold as having achieved an ideal we should all strive toward? On the flipside, I’ve known others, including lawyers and lobbyists, who have been far too quickly pigeonholed by their peers into fitting the classic stereotypes of their professions, which couldn’t be farther from the truth in these particular cases.
In the end, I believe that someone’s professional status is only a single puzzle piece representing who he or she really is. That's why, when I meet someone new – rather than automatically jumping to the old standby, “And what do you do?” – I try to focus on posing questions and engaging in a conversation that will help me really get to know the person as a whole. By trying to be less quick to judge, I often find that it’s those whose surface qualifications may not be the most prestigious who actually have the most compelling stories and inspiring ambitions to share, although those ambitions may fall outside the realm of a person’s daily 9-to-5 activities.
What do you think? Is it accurate to judge someone’s character based largely upon his or her professional identity, or is this something we as a society have a tendency to rely upon too heavily?