I assigned my students a project today — to develop a set of ethical principles that could drive their professional lives, and then to respond to the principles derived by their colleagues. As I transcribed that session this evening, I was more and more discouraged. A large component of their responses, probably about than a third, could only be described as "smart-ass." And one of my former students who I invited to participated said afterward (in paraphrase), "They're a lot more abusive of one another than we were."
I think there are a couple of mechanisms we use to distance ourselves from circumstances that make us uncomfortable. One is irony, the saying of things we don't mean; the other is a form of absurdism that's not so much about the object of ridicule as it is about the unimportance of pretty much anything. An example of the first is a response to the principle "We don't just go through the motions" that read "We skip a few." An example of the second is a response to the principle "Value everything" that read "even sea monkeys."
I'll admit that I'm tired (and old), but I can't help feeling some despair in the face of the ideas of professional ethics being dismissed so easily. We go for the quick joke, the sitcom one-liner. I think I can build on this, because I think these responses reflect a discomfort with their daily professional lives that I can continue to push — their comments are a veneer atop some real disillusionment over their chosen careers. But I wonder what our environments would be like if we privileged earnestness over glibness, if we rewarded silence and reverence in the face of things we don't understand rather than quick first responses.