Professionally Speaking….

It is hard to bear the degradation of our language and the use of certain words or phrases due to the intrusion of popular media or so-called pop culture. Soon those subtle changes become embedded and even make their way into the dictionary of the day. One striking example of this is the modern use and abuse of the word “profession” or “professional”.

Historically, there have been only four recognized professions. That agreed consensus goes back for centuries. They are: doctor, lawyer, teacher and preacher. Those are the professions. Those are the only true professionals. Today all manner of folks are called or self-described as professionals. We have professional athletes, professional plumbers and hair stylists. At least we do as they are depicted by the media. Merely appending that word as an adjective to their work or trade does not make them professionals.

The best definition of profession or professional was given by a law school professor some time ago. He stated it was a calling requiring specialized skill and academic training; it was a calling that benefitted society generally and not merely the practitioner; it was practiced because of a passion for the calling and the compensation was coincidental to the calling. Sure there are doctors, lawyers, teachers and preachers who don’t live up to that standard but that doesn’t diminish the standard. This definition does not demean the work or worth of other callings, trades or labor. When I have a leaky water line I sure want a really good plumber to come fix it for me. I want my car to have been assembled correctly and with competence by the people on the assembly line. I enjoy watching some athletes perform on the football field or the golf course but none of that enjoyment or appreciation makes what they do a profession and they are not professionals.

Sinclair Lewis made a pretty good career writing about several of the professions. He covered three of them with Arrowsmith (doctor), Gideon Planish (teacher) and Elmer Gantry (preacher). All those characters certainly had their flaws just as he did with his own life. It is sad to think that such a good mind and great talent was squandered by his alcoholism which eventually killed him. I suppose some of us are too idealistic for our own good. No doubt many see nothing wrong with using the phrase “professional” when describing their car mechanic. I hate to see the erosion in our language and the precision it offers but we often ignore.

For every miserable lawyer around we must also recall that our history is replete with ones who advanced civilization and human progress. Moses was the original lawyer. He in fact is referred to as the “Lawgiver”. Cicero was a lawyer. Charlemagne is remembered for his laws. John
Adams was lawyer. Thomas Jefferson was lawyer. Jonas Salk didn’t get rich off of his discovery of the polio vaccine. He gave it away. Aristotle, Plato and Socrates were all teachers. Billy Graham brought great good and solace to literally millions during his career. Remember him every time you see one of those PTL type money grabbing pulpit thumpers.

At one time or another you have probably used the phrase “False colors” or flying under false colors. It means of course a deception or a deceptive act. It comes from the nautical lexicon. For more centuries than we know, it was common for all navies to use flags to identify themselves and their foes, just as armies wore uniforms that could be recognized by their countrymen so they wouldn’t shoot each other. Sea captains would sometimes fly the flag of another nation as a ruse to get in close and launch a surprise broadside into their opponent. That has been done countless times over the last few centuries by navies of all stripes and the privateers hired by sovereign nations. It happened during the first and second world wars. It was always considered not gentlemanly and not cricket to do that. That is why captains would use their scopes to carefully view any ship approaching them to see if they could detect anything that didn’t match up with the flag (colors) being flown. Even the worse offenders would almost always lower the false flag and rise their true colors right before they opened fire. That way they could maintain that they didn’t take hostile action under “false colors”.


1 Comment

Filed under Culture, history, law, military history, religion, Uncategorized

One response to “Professionally Speaking….

  1. I would add to the list: engineer. It is a profession that has come into being in the last 200 years and it meets the academic, skill and compensetory requirements of your law school professor.

    I agree that there are few occupations that do.

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