Us vs. Them

I found myself sitting in a room of professionals in Dayton, OH, and to be perfectly honest, I felt a little out of place. Maybe its because I’ve been living in RV parks for several months (no knock on RV parks, they just don’t carry that professional, suit and tie vibe). Or maybe its because I haven’t thrown on a pair of heels since we rolled out of Texas in January. Regardless of the reasons, the room in which I sat, to participate in a discussion on the subject of professionalism and how to relate to the “working class” just didn’t sit right with me.

I has the privilege to attend as the guest of a friend, a new friend and seasoned journalist who I met the previous day. This guy absolutely won my heart, and restored my hope in the field of journalism. 

So back to the professional discussion on professionalism. 

I think I was getting to sit in on this forum, mostly because I’ve been spending a lot of time with people from really diverse backgrounds, many of whom wouldn’t describe themselves as professionals, and because they need a voice at a table like this one. They are men and women who have jobs, or maybe they don’t. They own homes, or maybe they don’t. They have health insurance, or maybe they don’t. 

The point is, I was in a room of we’s and no they’s. Any time a room is full of all we’s and no they’s, my heart begins to sink.

If the discussion is about how “we” deal with “them”, then a clear line of demarkation has already been drawn, and often, sadly, a smug sense of superiority.

As the meeting began, I was also quietly wondering how a discussion about “them” would be fruitful without “them.”

The professionals around the table included medical doctors, a few Ph.D’s, journalists and teachers. As the discussion progressed, I just couldn’t stand the fact that we had yet to define the obvious. So I raised my hand, and though I was a guest, took the opportunity to throw a small wrench into the discussion. I wasn’t looking to upset the apple cart, I really just needed to understand this simple, and foundational point to the discussion. 

“What exactly is a professional?” I asked. “Because I saw a guy in a large industrial vehicle on my way to this meeting. He was digging up and moving large rocks and enormous amounts of dirt with expensive and specialized equipment for a road project. The skill set in which he was operating required highly skilled training, finesse and expertise. I would have no problem referring to this gentleman as a ‘professional dirt mover’. Am I to understand, based on the parameters of this discussion, that he is not a professional because he doesn’t hold a higher degree in medicine, mathematics or education?”

The room fell silent. This was not my intent, but my journalist friend across the table, whom I feared I had just offended, was beaming, delighted to see the looks on the faces around us. 

“I’d never thought of it that way,” one of the doctors in the room confessed. “You work so hard and make so much sacrifice to get the degree and the title, so its a little hard to think of someone who didn’t do all that as your equal.” 

Wow, I thought, so you have worked hard so you don’t have to think of someone else as your equal. That one stings, and it exposes a lot of why I think we are falling apart as a country.

The conversation then shifted. 

“I’m trying to imagine would it look like if I took a little more time to get to know my patients rather than just ask for a list of symptoms and churn out a diagnosis.” One female doctor shared with the group.

As they grappled with this proposition and the new paradigm that a professional could come in all shapes, sizes and pedigrees, I continued to sit and listen and ponder. 

I realized in that moment that what I was witnessing is perhaps one of the biggest parts of our problem in America. We are not taking the time to understand, let alone value the “they’s” in our lives. For some, the thought has never occurred, and for others, it just sounds like too much work.

But as the daughter of two medical professionals who have run a wildly successful private medical practice, I have seen firsthand how their greatest successes have come from their most human, and not necessarily most professional moments, when they thought to ask deeper questions, when they took the time to care for someone rather than simply treat them.

It is no doubt a great accomplishment to achieve a higher degree of learning in this country, but my sincere hope is that in doing so, we not lose the precious truth that we are all very, very equal in our value as human beings, in our gifts we all uniquely function in to both serve others and to make a living. 

  • Paula Colker Miller says:

    I just discovered your website and it’s refreshing to read about your transformative travel experiences. Bravo for stepping out of your comfort zones and seeking out “the other”. I wish you every success.

    My husband and I have been privileged to know and love a few disenfranchised groups: minorities (who will soon become the majority and that’s exciting, not frightening), refugees, and gay and lesbian families. They bring new color and texture to what might have been a bland, boring worldview. Breadth of connections between diverse groups could overcome the fear that’s being intentionally generated in the world. Those who beat the drum of fear do so to gather power for their own selfish purposes. Let’s mute those drums together.

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