If I’m the only person I can ever control, don’t I have the professional responsibility to exercise self-control and civility when someone acts unprofessional toward me? Shouldn’t professionalism requires more than simply complying with ethical rules and demonstrating common decency toward one another; now, more than ever, professionalism should also be about how the “non-offending” professional responds to the unprofessional and uncivil conduct of others. Our calling to be “professional” should accordingly also include humility, empathy and forgiveness when faced with the arguably unprofessional and/or uncivil conduct of others. Hopefully, our exercise of humility, empathy and forgiveness will have the effect of remediating future acts of incivility and unprofessional conduct; and shouldn’t that be the calling of every professional.
As someone who has practice law for over thirty years, I can certainly attest to many circumstances where the “best lawyering” I did for my client was to not engage with “the other side” when “they” get unprofessional and/or unnecessarily adversarial. Instead, I’ve tried to respond to a more noble calling; to act kindly, fairly and calmly in response to whatever our clients, other lawyers and even judges may ask of us. I try to empathize and forgive before I attack and blame; no matter how right I may feel I am.
As Wayne Dyer, the self-help author used to say, “there are no justified resentments”; the person acting inappropriately is probably acting out of fear, resentment, anger and/or some other emotional health issue that will not be helped by the “non-offending party” lashing back at the offender and/or otherwise escalating the volatility of the present moment. Our calling as professionals is to respond to same with empathy and forgiveness in the present moment; even if “the offending party” doesn’t really deserve our empathy and forgiveness. In the words of Mother Theresa, we are called to “forgive them anyway.” NOW more than ever, our professionalism should not just be about our affirmative compliance with ethics rules and common notions of decency, it should also be just as much about how we civilly and effectively respond to the arguably unprofessional and uncivil conduct of others. Empathy is the truest form of professionalism.