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Wanted: A new Professionalism

Friday, July 20, 2018

The recent resignations of prominent CEOs, committee members and professionals in organisations, over alleged misspent monies, ‘blatant lies’ and being ‘rogue entities’, is indeed alarming and of noticeable concern. As persons in the public interest, there were levelled accusations against them of breaches of contract, a lack of accountability, transparency and openness and a failure to follow proper rules and procedures.

These persons were seen by many as professionals. Within the culture of T&T, these ‘standards of behaviours’ may have been ignored by others who looked the other way, or accepted them as a norm in the society. Perhaps then, a new professionalism is needed, one that is able to maintain the public’s trust in what is done – one that emphasises shared values, morals and ethics and shared accountability?

On Sunday (July 1st), at our Annual Social of TTAP, Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists, the theme was: Service as a Professional. Our guest speaker, the Honourable Speaker of the House, Bridgid Annissette-George, stated that, ‘Being a professional was to have made a public commitment to a high standard of performance, to integrity, and to public service’. She quoted from an excerpt as said by his Holiness, Pope Paul VI: ‘It is imperative that no one…indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfil one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organisations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.’ The Speaker further noted that ‘to be of service to others as a professional requires service above self…and was not the sole duty of psychologists but of all professionals who are citizens and residents of Trinidad and Tobago…as the primary duty of citizenship was the use of one’s specialised skills and training not only for one’s advancement but for the promotion of the common good’.

Mrs Annisette-George had admitted to the audience that this was a daunting topic for her, as it was the implied belief that professionals would be committed to serve others and not be self-serving. This is an erroneous belief. Many years ago, I differed in opinion with a principal whose school had the reputation of achieving many scholarships, but her interaction with parents and persons from different cultures and backgrounds was arrogant and derogatory, reducing many to tears. Back then, in my naivete, I had thought that persons of a particular standing in society were duty bound to be exemplars to us who were younger and looking up to them.

My mother was a professional and an exemplar. I grew up believing that the two went together, hand in hand. I know differently now. I have learnt that one can be a professional – with advanced degrees, smart attire and a company reputation – but he/she may not necessarily exude the traits that embody professionalism: the principles of respect for others; honesty and sincerity in one’s transactions; conduct which involves ethics, morals and standards; competence and mastery of job skills that inspire confidence and trust; and the most important one in my book – honouring any commitment that you have made to others.

This trait means getting the job done in a timely manner and taking responsibility for any mistakes that may have occurred along the way, without blaming others for your own tardiness or ‘passing the buck!’

The JSC committees who have been tightening the belt and calling professionals to accountability must be commended. In exploring the word profession, one meaning stated that ‘professions are groups which declare in a public way that their members promise to act in certain ways and that the society may discipline those who fail to do so’. Let the clarion call be sounded! A new professionalism is needed in T&T – an ideology that is not only pertinent to professional groups and structures but a shared social contract for all. Not only as a hidden curriculum but as a unifying set of beliefs and behaviours that inspire public trust and gives of service above self, for the promotion of the common good.

Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist and president of the T&T Association of Psychologists.


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