Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Professionalization of Everything: A Good Thing?

Recently, I visited a physical therapist who will be present at the birth of our son. She's obviously an ambitious, creative and successful woman who is helping to bring certain aspects of European (specifically, French) childbirth and post-childbirth techniques to Brazilian medicine. Google "post-partum physical therapy" for more info. I am not having any pregnancy related issues at the moment, but I did want to meet with her and get a feel for what she did. Should I suffer from any issues, I'm confident she'll be able to help me get my body into as pain-free of a condition as possible and will be an excellent assistant during labor.

What I did not like was being repeatedly told that exercising at home was "not recommended" and the other subtle ways she tried to reinforce how crucial her knowledge was to me, as if it were somehow something secret, only available to specialists. In her attempts to wow me with medical and anatomical terminology, she managed to make some grave factual errors, such as stating that I was still well within my first trimester (I'm at 22 weeks, so clearly NOT), and insinuating that my moderate exercise routine could cause severe damage to my sacroiliac joint (without actually observing said routine). She recommended that I find a personal trainer or join a specialized hydrogymnastics class for pregnant women.

Now, besides the fact that I have no desire to go bouncing about in a pool with a bunch of similarly pregnant women, and find the entire subject of personal trainers rather distasteful (nothing against trainers per se and much more due to the waste and whining I saw when I was a member of a Brazilian gym for a year), that's also a huge potential expense. There's a reason why I am working out at home and it's partly financial, but also partly because I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. I know how to pace myself, I know my body's limitations and I have done my research on pregnancy and what restrictions that places on me now and in the coming months. I didn't need a specialist for that.

I get it. If we inform the general public, then specialists will lose business. But these attitudes that distance us from common sense and suggest that everything requires specialist care are rampant and irritating! Some kind folks suggested we take a class which consisted entirely on how to bathe a baby. (I had brothers and sisters, I think I can figure it out, thanks!) I read about a push to give special training and certification to gas station attendants--because it takes a special set of skills to pump gas? I once sat on a bus once where two women got into an argument about a facet of Brazilian law and the one who called herself a lawyer (whose statements were patently wrong) was the crowd's choice for being right, even though her position was illogical and clearly refuted by the posted signage. But she HAD to be right, because she was a lawyer. Everywhere you go, from the hairdresser to the doctor's office, you're asked to fill out your profession, along with name, address and other pertinent details. It's like we're being cataloged. What's funny, though, is that the cataloging isn't based on what you actually DO.

I, for instance, should by all Brazilian logic, fill out those forms with "musician." Now, I don't currently work in any manner within the music industry. I do not sing professionally (and rarely privately), I do not write or teach music and I cannot play a single blasted instrument (though I once played the piano, and not very well). But I do have a degree in music from an accredited university, so that makes me a musician, even though my main form of income is actually through writing. I'm not a writer, because, well, there's no "proof." That's ironic, because there's much more concrete proof of my writing abilities than there is for my musical ones.

It seems to me, that in the push to "professionalize" everything, we've started to accept the idea that one can only know about X if one has a degree or a certificate in that subject. And that kind of thinking is dangerous, because it's the antithesis of thinking. Such attitudes affect how people perceive their own experiences, the experiences of others, and the acquisition of knowledge in general. It causes us to cease questioning self-proclaimed "authorities" and accept erroneous information as truthful because of the source which issued it, denigrating our own and others' abilities, knowledge and capacities in the process. A certificate doesn't necessarily make someone an expert on a subject, just as the lack of one doesn't exclude someone from the same.

It makes me wonder: what happened to Renaissance people? You know, polymaths? Since when did we decide that developing our capabilities, extending learning throughout one's lifetime and continuously growing somehow disqualified us from being as competent (with the right preparation) as someone narrowly focused in one area (but with a big gold certificate)?

I used to fill out those forms with "writer" or "artistic type" or some other thing that caused the receptionists to giggle or raise their eyebrows disapprovingly. I like "polymath" even more. It's a title to strive for, one that requires continual self-expansion, and something to make people scratch their heads.

Jenna Pashley Smith, Polymath.

Maybe for the next set of business cards?


anne said...

excellent excellent post! (and yes, I know what I am talking about, I am a trained reader!)
Professionalization is not a "new" thing, but it varies, from place to place, as to what qualifies. Europe, and perhaps other "not USA" countries go in heavily for "certificates", instead of requiring 2yr or 4yr degrees, as they do in the USA. And of course, you are "with child", your first one, so you will meet all manner of folks who want you to use their services as a "know-nothing" first-time parent. LOTS of folks take a "you just tell me what I should know" approach to their health in general, having kids in particular, and the "pros" eat that up. Yes, it keeps them in biz. And yes, it cloaks all in the mysteries of whatever...0_0
Dumb. But not unexpected. If "anyone" could know/do what the pro knows/does, why have one? the reality is, no one really has time to be a pro in all areas, even if they had/have the abilities, more or less..
You are unusual in your knowledge of yourself, by the way == you know more about "you" due to past health issues, etc. Average Person just sort of drifts along.....

Anonymous said...

Wow - that makes me the mother of a polymath and my grandson's mother is a polymath. What fun we will have with this! As always, I enjoyed your post. Love, Mom