Friday, August 22, 2008

Resisting Emotion

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.


Eric Randall said...

Do you think this trend you are seeing is so much a reaction to the profession of architecture itself (which, at least from my perspective, has deteriorated to a complete void of ethics) or is this a larger societal arch? I said it 5 days ago: It all went downhill after Dwight Eisenhower...and there might be a shred of truth in that mildly ironic statement.

My gut reaction is to simply state that the decline of professional ethics and the inverse rise of "smart assedness" is a reflection of the greater society's ills - The Enron effect, the Elliot Spitzer factor, the Paris Hilton cult of personality. But boomers can counter every "Me Generation" scandal with one of their own - be it $64,000 Question, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Tricky Dick, so I think that argument falls apart rather easily.

Perhaps more accurately, is the decline in standing of the selfless role model. The heroes of the 20th Century are numerous: Mother Teresa, John Paul II, King, FDR, Kennedy, Kennedy, Churchill, Mandela...the heroes of the last 20 years of the 20th Century....not so much. I'm positive there are many great folks doing many selfless and amazing things out there right now, and I'm ashamed that I can't name one of them. Sure there are the Ronald Reagans and the Bill Clintons for my generation - both of which very polarizing individuals who were either adamantly loved or loathed - but none come to mind who are universally loved as those preceding them.

Perhaps all it takes to bring back an age of ethical enlightenment is a little more attention to the David Eisenhowers and and little less to the David Ortizs.

MaloyMark said...

Good Day!

Hope that you had a good intensive last week.

Interesting choice of topics today, over the last few days I’ve been dealing with this topic on an interesting level with people who are supposedly professionals and lead the rest of the professions in the state. It amazes me that we no longer have respect or professional courtesy for each other. We treat individuals as something which once it’s use is done we just discard them.

We have fostered a generation that has always been told they are the best at what ever they do. And have always won every thing and never lost, and always received the trophy.

It’s all about the moment, the person or the firm, to me it's the trail of the coin.

I've starting working on a post which I’ve titled “Sand Box”, hope to post it later this week.

Deb said...


I picked up your book last week by accident, or divine can one know? Maybe in some mystic phenomenological way of knowing, it found me.

In my work teenagers are all too often not just throwaways, but pushaways. In the the data-driven, best-practices, research-based frenzy of reactivity that school administrators and educators clutch after, they too often miss the authentic place for change: relationship.

I have been mothering other people’s children for too long, and advocating in schools and courts for a good long while. This does not a pay scale make, and so, I am now working on my BA, majoring in social change, minor in writing. I nearly wept (it could be the midlife, heck, mid-paragraph hormonal flux, who knows): I’m on page xviii and I’m already cheering: "Data is useful for examining concepts, but stories are the appropriate tool for understanding people" (Childress, 2000).

Imagine bodies rising and folding in the human wave to affirm your line.

I offer this, in return:

F on Her Final

The Assignment
Imagine your paper
is a five-gallon bucket.
Fill it with sensory details
attention to conventions
in the narrative form.
You have thirty minutes.
Please begin.

The Barriers
Her bucket is full:
daddy’s incarceration
mommy’s abandonment
little girl hymen
half-lost to neighbor
other half taken
in forensic exam. Over-
flowing with labels
post-traumatic stress
oppositional defiant
eating disordered
learning disabled
No room for equations
economics or essays
and certainly not
happy to speak when called on
by well-intentioned staff
clueless (again)
about why she’s distracted
Three minutes left.
Please finish up.

The Response
a struggle
a scribble
excessive erasure
tears in her paper
gaps in her memory
an F
where the grade belongs.

You again, "The responsibility I started out believing was the important one...disappeared constantly under the real responsibility of being a good friend.”

Dear god, where have you been all my reading years?

Suspending Judgment
for Kyle

You came like a five o’clock shadow
without footstep or voice, served yourself pizza
sat in a desk too tight
for your almost grown frame
like playing school only you weren’t playing
were you? When I asked if you skipped,
you said, “Third period,” as proud
as if you’d earned an award
for Perfect Attendance.
“I have too many students to help you,”
I said, “if all you want is free pizza.”
“No dude,” you said, “I need help.”

Did you know your name
was eighteenth most popular
for Caucasian males, some people make assumptions
about little boys with red hair
that belong to neglectful
hot-bodied moms?
You can’t suspend them
can you, nor their judgment about you
any easier than you can
the prejudice that is bred
in your impoverished world. Your name, Celtic child
means narrow
the way your world got
three days ago, or strait
like the jacket that restricts you from entering
the public school
where you asked me for help.
You kept your word not one day, but two
before your big-boy, dress-up
provocative language
got you the attention
every little boy needs
when you took out your notebook to work
for the first time in months, incidentally
revealing incendiary epitaths
and racial slurs.

It wouldn’t bother me (so much)
if your teacher hadn’t sent you from class
saying there was no hope for you
to pass or the counselor hadn’t said,
“not one person in this building
wants to help you (I did)
or if—while you waited politely
to be suspended
when I asked “where’s your mom?”
you hadn’t answered,
“in the hospital.”

I don’t excuse the way you try on hate
like a new pair of Nikes
but I understand power
is brokered and you have no currency
but the pain you carry
like pocket change
while your absent father rails against his child support
buying your mother’s new
lily-white breasts.

Well, that is quite enough for tonight. I understand you probably weren’t lying with a red note beaming fromyour hairline that said SEND POETRY. Your blog figured out how to come seduce my poems. I hope they don't get lose over here...there's a curfew, you know, for unaccompanied poems after nine.