Commonly, a profession is a paid occupation, one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Someone talented at a sport, for example, who works diligently at perfecting her skills, is a professional athlete when she gets paid for her playing her sport. Most of us could paint a house, and some paint houses for a living – professionally.
From another perspective, a professional has the expertise necessary for the well-being of the community as a whole. This kind of professional supports and guides the direction of our world. Historically, the areas of expertise most necessary for a functioning society are law, clergy, health, and education.
The field of law defines the order of society and develops systems for maintaining that order by establishing and enforcing rules. To assure order, the field of law also establishes methods for enforcement.
Ideas about spirituality are challenging. Clergy guide the area of life commonly referred to as faith or religion. It is the body of people recognized for religious duties.
The profession of medicine includes people responsible for keeping our bodies as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Teachers are essential for the accurate transmission of expertise over time – training professionals to work their skills for the benefit of everyone.
Strictly, the above professions require expertise, education, and responsibility to others. They might be considered areas of true professionalism. They are indispensable, and participants should ideally offer their competence and service at no cost and be supported by society (a topic for another time).
Professional practice is guided by a mixture of tradition and evolution – always in the direction of improvement. It is expected that today’s professionals are grounded in core principles and open to changes that improve on that core. Unless a society is careful, changes might draw the professions into areas that fail the community. The definition of failure is broad, but we recognize it when we see it – much like a court justice once explained his definition of obscenity.
As an example that we should be concerned about, consider the changes in medicine. There was a time not too long ago when a person would seek medical help when something was clearly “wrong.” There might have been unrelenting pain, bleeding, wounds, bruising, etc. The sufferer turned to the medicine people for help overcoming the malady. For most of history, the healer used techniques passed on by previous healers that seemed to work – at least well enough to convince the community that he or she had healing powers.
In time, the healing profession devised methods for arriving at a diagnosis. A series of symptoms might point to an opinion that a person had a specific problem, and a test was devised to validate the opinion. The art of medicine involves the ability to accumulate facts, ideas, and experience to determine what could be the problem. From this approach, we have benefitted from developing more sophisticated and accurate testing methods, but we may place far more trust in the testing than is in our best interest. Medical practitioners are expected to take the lead on behalf of the whole world.
Where we once used tools and testing to verify a health opinion, we are in a place where testing now comes first, often followed by more tests and procedures – and frequently prescribed drugs, surgeries, and treatments with radiation. Without disparaging those approaches to healing, medical practitioners must remember that they are aiding a person to achieve the level of health they want, not the level the practitioner, or society in general, deems appropriate.
Good health is personal and subjective. It isn’t defined by anyone other than the individual. Tests and medical interventions are necessary, but they lean more toward the objective than the subjective. An objective result may be rewarding – a “successful outcome” – but it can also be insulting to the total well-being of the person.
Taken together, we have excellent resources in the health field. Some ministrations will delay death but can leave a person in a state that lacks joy and quality living.
It’s vital for the future of humanity to seriously consider how to allow health without mandating it based on objective criteria that don’t perfectly connect with an individual’s subjective view of living.