6 September 2012

Despite Working in Very Personal Domains People Talk in a Very Impersonal Manner … It’s Not DESPITE; It’s BECAUSE! (3)

Have you noticed that people that have jobs in very personal domains usually talk using very impersonal words? For example doctors use terms like “the patient” or “the subject” and police people use terms like “the suspect” or “the victim”. Military personnel refer to dead soldiers as being KIA (acronym for killed in action) and they use the term of “theater of operations” when talking about a battlefield. Even other professions have their jargon: recruiters refer to people seeking for a job as “candidates” or “applicants” while teachers use “students”.  Although these words clearly refer to a person they are at least one step away from the notions of “Human being” or “person”.

It could be said that despite working in very personal domains, people use very impersonal words. And, you have guessed that: It’s not despite; It’s because.

Let’s take the more severe cases of professions like medics, police and military. Imagine that you are a police man or woman. You work 8 hour shifts every day. With whom do you interact all day long, every day? I guess most people never asked themselves this question. A police man or woman has to deal all day long with two categories of people: First there are the victims of crime. Clearly when interacting with a police man or woman, the victim of crime is not exactly cheerful and happy. After all why would you go to the police when everything is fine? Second there are the criminals or delinquents. Usually these are the scrap of society. Usually they are people with traumas in their past that became felons. Usually they are of below average intelligence, uneducated and in brief, not exactly a nice company.

Now, let’s think about doctors. All (working) day long they have to deal with people that are suffering. Yes, of course, there are some exceptions like pregnant women that are fine but just go a regular check and there are very health-conscious people that are in perfect shape and just what the reassurance of a professional and have regular check-ups. However, these are exceptions and in a medic’s daily life there is a lot of pain and suffering to deal with.

Now, let’s think about military personnel, particularly higher ranks. What is the job of these people? In a word: “To KILL”. Yes there is a lot of nice talk about preventing conflict and a lot of “mumbo-jumbo”, but in the end the military exists to destroy and kill. I remember one line from a movie about World War I where a soldier said that “a general’s job is to send people to their death”.

Even less critical professions have less pleasant moments. Teachers have to fail students if their performance is not good enough. Recruiters have to tell people that they did not get the job for which they went to 3 interviews and filled in 100 forms.

Imagine how it would be for a police person to think of a delinquent in the following terms:

The poor guy who was conceived in an alley by a drunken man and a drugged prostitute. The poor kid that spent most of his childhood in the same room where his mother brought in “customers”. The guy that by the age of 7 preferred to sleep in the street because his father would rape him whenever he didn’t beat him with a steel pipe. The kid that by the age of 13 was injecting heroin in his penis because he couldn’t find any other vein.

More or less, that’s the past of the “regular client” of the police. You almost feel sorry for that person, but if you are a police man or woman you still have to catch him and send him to justice. Isn’t it simply easier to call him “the suspect”? It’s not a human being that never got a chance in life and now has become a threat to the people that actually had a chance. It’s a SUSPECT.

What about a woman that had a perfectly normal life with a good boyfriend and that was raped by a delusional punk that has severe brain damage from drugs and thinks that all women want to have sex with him even if they don’t know it yet? Her life will never be the same again and it will take years of healing and psychological therapy to even let another man to touch her. Even if she and her boyfriend were considering getting married, they will eventually split up, because of the trauma.  Isn’t easier to call her “The Victim”?

Imagine you are a commanding officer in the army and in a conflict you sent Jim, Hans, Patrick, Carl, John, Guido and Vergil in a mission. They all get killed and Patrick’s son will never see his father since he was born after his father left for the army. Hans’s wife will cry for more than a year and John’s mother is alone at the age of 80. Carl was the only “bread earner” of the family and no his wife will have to work and take care of the 5 children. Wouldn't it be easier to say and think that 7 soldiers were KIA than to really acknowledge what has happened?

What if you are a recruiter and you have to reject a person who if doesn’t get the job loses the house in which their 3 children live? It’s much easier to say that “the candidate” was rejected.

Put yourself in the shoes of a teacher. Svetlana couldn’t complete her assignment and now she will fail the course and subsequently lose the scholarship she has and she will not be able to complete her studies. Moreover, since she will not be able to complete the studies her student visa will be canceled and she will be deported. You have to fail her, because objectively she does not deserve to pass the course. But it’s much better to fail a “Student” than to fail Svetlana.  

Think about doctors who everyday have to deal with suffering, hope and despair. Yes, that cute 9 years old girl that is so funny and so full of life has bone cancer and there’s nothing YOU can do. In less than 6 months her fragile body will be decomposing in a graveyard.

I have given you a few (kind of extreme) examples of what’s going on in the working life of people that have very personal professions. These are just examples. I have to admit that some are a bit extreme, but they are representative. And… you got only one for each! You read about ONE “Suspect”, about ONE “VICTIM”, about ONE instance of “KIA” Soldiers, about ONE “Candidate”, about ONE “Student” and about ONE “Patient”

Imagine 10 each and every day! Can you take it?

It is not despite working in very personal domains that people use these impersonal words. It is because they work in very personal domains that people NEED to create a distance so that they can do the work they have to do. Doctors need to be able to treat people and honestly if they heal them who cares if they refer to people as “Patients”. Police people need to maintain order and fight crime and for most of society what’s the difference if they say “Suspect” or “Victim” if in the end crime is at a reasonable level.

Not even bright and highly trained people can handle the amount of pressure that one such professional has to deal with every day. Doctors are usually very smart people and highly educated, but even they need to distance themselves from all the “bad that surrounds them”. Military personnel are highly trained professionals, but even the general that has 1000 medals on his chest can’t put up with 10000 dead young men in the mud.

It’s not despite that they have highly personal professions that people communicate in a very impersonal manner; It is Because.

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