The Response-ability of Professionals
Elizabeth Anderson, Executive Director

 “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” ~ Aristotle

I just finished reading a fascinating book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressman. I found it to be deeply meaningful, a book that will have a big impact in my life and thinking, both personally and professionally – and it’s short, easily digestible, pointed and elegant in its simplicity and clarity. The book talks about “Resistance” (with a capital “R”). Resistance to . . . well, he lists some activities that most commonly elicit Resistance, which hilariously include “any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals,” among other things like “education of every kind” and “the taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.” The book explores Resistance in all of its forms, and as a frame to discuss it Pressman illustrates the difference between how Resistance is dealt with by a ”professional” and an “amateur.”

I definitely have Resistance, but luckily I am not alone. In fact, Pressman asserts, “Resistance is universal . . . Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.” I suppose I can understand Resistance rearing its head when one is trying to create a great work of art, or bringing something completely new into being, but what I find hard to understand is why, for me, Resistance often comes up around things I know how to do, and have done many times before.

While the book focuses on Resistance for the professional writer, I think the principles he discusses can be applied to any field. Certainly, my creativity is expressed in the work I do – producing events, communicating with people, creating projects and programs, expressing myself in writing to further practical aims. There is a huge amount of status conferred on the “artist” who wins a Grammy or an Oscar, but frankly, to me, the notion of artistry can be expressed and experienced by anyone who invests their own creative work with passion, excellence and supreme dedication.

So what about the distinction between the professional and the amateur in relation to Resistance?  Let’s just focus on the professional, as that’s what I want to discuss here. Pressman says that the qualities that define us as professionals are:

  1. We show up every day.
  2. We show up no matter what.
  3. We stay on the job all day.
  4. We are committed over the long haul.
  5. The stakes for us are high and real.
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor.
  7. We do not over-identify with our jobs.
  8. We master the technique of our jobs.
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.

In my role at the PMA, I certainly get praise and blame in the real world. I am challenged, both in the face of praise and blame, to act professionally – we all are. Pressman analyzes the professional’s conduct in a section called Combating Resistance, which includes these chapter headings:

A professional is patient.

A professional demystifies.

A professional acts in the face of fear.

A professional accepts no excuses.

A professional does not show off.

A professional endures adversity.

A professional is recognized by other professionals.

 . .. and A critter that keeps coming (I know that one sounds odd, but you’ll see it in context later on).

These points have significant meaning to me in my role at the PMA, my staff, our board, our commissioners and everyone in the community who works to establish Pilates as a profession by creating and operating within systems and structures common to established professions. There are systems that support professionalism and there are behaviors that express professionalism. It’s something we cultivate in ourselves and it represents a commitment to integrity, factual accuracy in communication, respect for others, self-control, and congruence between our words and actions.

In this age of social media, it’s very easy to sit behind a computer and criticize the people who are working in the real world to advance our profession.  Pressman says “Critics … are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance and as such, can be truly cunning and pernicious.” I would add that critics who broadcast their opinions as if they were truth without fact checking or allowing any opportunity to respond directly are the epitome of cunning and pernicious. Criticism, when expressed professionally and constructively, with respect and an intention to help, can be a very healthy and positive thing. But there is a broad line (not a fine one!) between that, and criticism that takes the form of disparagement. There is nothing professional about disparagement. In our world of electronic expression, often there is no direct communication between people – the damage is done online, where resentment is expressed in a format where no response can be made, sometimes anonymously. When grandstanding creates controversy where there is none, particularly in the pursuit of attention seeking or profit-making, there is no integrity, no respect, no professionalism.

Let’s consider how we as human beings and Pilates professionals deal with our resentments. Everyone has them. The question is, what do we do with them?  Our resentments and grievances, and our feelings about them, are ours to master. This is part of what we face in our professional lives. We can discipline ourselves not to be reactive – to wait, to breathe, to calm down. We can seek to understand the situation, ourselves and the other party. We can discuss our issue with the person who can do something about it – even if all they can do is explain themselves, and not change what happened. We can think about whether anything we are doing or thinking contributes to the problem. Or we can build up a head of steam and talk to everyone EXCEPT the person who is actually involved, attacking in disrespectful terms, with the aim of not understanding or changing, but of tearing down and destroying.

When we at the PMA receive criticism and blame, the first thing we do is look to see if what’s being said is true, and if so, we use the information to improve. Continuous self-examination is paramount to growing any excellent organization. Self-improvement is a constant daily commitment and there’s always space to do more.  We take stock, adjust if warranted, and keep showing up. Do the work. If the criticism is not true, we don’t let it define our reality. We view it as part of the environment in which we operate, and keep our focus on our goals. We trust, as it says above, that “A professional is recognized by other professionals” and that professionals also recognize unprofessional conduct.

Last week I was sent a link to a book called Humblebrag, The Art of False Modesty by Harris Wittels. Information on this book arrived via a Tweet from new media specialist Brian Solis. I found this book and the commentary on this page both funny and important. It talks about a service that exists that will auto generate fake tweets from celebrity accounts that appear to endorse one’s product.

I found some of the observations made by Solis very interesting. The first is the “humblebrag” concept, which is a way of (falsely) appearing humble while really bragging. An example is claiming that you’re not selling anything while emphasizing all your unique selling points and positioning your audience to buy your services, or to buy into the cult of you.  Secondly, Solis observes that “[w]hile it’s all fun and games at first, there are incredible implications that can arise for those who do not take proper measures to check facts. And in a real-time world, getting to the truth is often an important task that goes undone. There’s an innate element of trust in social streams…either that or inherent gullibility or laziness. People tend to believe what they see and react accordingly.“

Accordingly, he recommends, we should “take a moment to make sure that what we see is right…. Verify. Fact check. Take a breath before reacting. At the same time, we need to take a moment to make sure what we also do is right…in real-time. As I’ve always said, with social media comes great responsibility. But what doesn’t change, even in the face of technology, is ethics. You are what you Tweet…even if you fake it.”

Recipients of information in the social media world have a responsibility. The next time you read something on someone’s blog, Twitter or Facebook page, look for congruence in what you read and observe. Question what you see and check facts before reacting and re-tweeting. If something seems wrong, maybe it is. Furthermore, you should not assume that something is true simply because it fits in with your personal view.

You have as much responsibility to check facts if something seems RIGHT as you do if something seems WRONG. This is what critical thinking is all about.

In conclusion, the professional has to be indefatigable. We have to show up no matter what and stay all day. We have to endure adversity. We have to be a “critter that keeps coming” relentlessly, in the face not only of healthy, constructive criticism, but also misinformation, disparagement and even libel.

As Pilates professionals, we want to embody the best of human qualities – mental, physical and emotional health, integrity, honesty and respect. Cultivating these qualities results in a joy in living, peace of mind and harmony with others. 

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