Personal Beliefs and Professionalism

JONATHAN CARROLL | OPINION COLUMNIST

I was reading an article the other day about a Swedish woman who sought a sterilisation technique in her home country but was denied one until a therapist could provide official documentation that she was not mentally ill. The woman’s reasoning for wanting to be sterilised was perfectly valid, so there could be no question that she was being irrational in her request. She saw childbearing as selfish, since the child isn’t conceived until after the fact and thus any attempt to conceive a child cannot logically be done for the sake of a non-existent being, and with that consideration, simply did not have the desire for her own interests to have a child. Her husband, at least as she told it, was contently on the same page. After doing a bit of research to see if this was Swedish policy to require a therapist’s documentation to be cleared for sterilisation, I found nothing indicating that such is the case. The decision by medical staff to require such documentation must have been a personal call. This led me to ask the question: what role should personal beliefs have in the workplace?

On the one hand, a sense of self-determination and human rights makes me want to defend never comprising one’s personal beliefs to the requirements of one’s job. However, I quickly realized that just as the author of the article was concerned about selfishness, so too should we consider the selfishness of imposing our personal beliefs in the workplace. The purpose of any profession is to benefit society in some capacity; choosing some profession should in theory be done for the sake of the service that person is providing, and not for one’s own interests. Thus, withholding one’s professional duties on account of one’s personal beliefs is a betrayal of the purpose of that occupation.
In this way, personal beliefs should have no role in the workplace, rather only influencing which occupation one pursues: if the requirements of an occupation may conflict with one’s personal beliefs, then that person should refrain from taking that position, and choose one instead that will not force him or her to choose between one’s duties and personal convictions. If one’s convictions are of little consequence to that person, though, then he or she may fulfill any employment position.

As I see it, there is, however, one occupation which rather requires one to impose his or her beliefs in the workplace, that being a politician. Essentially, the function and purpose of this occupation is to shape the policies which guide the actions of other occupations. For example, the personal beliefs of politicians resulted in the decision in Sweden to not make a therapist’s clearance necessary for a sterilisation procedure, and from that fact the inappropriateness of the medical personnel to deny the woman such a procedure until she could produce evidence that she was not mentally ill. Again, in the interest of benefiting society, the occupation of politician is in place for the purpose of laying out a collective of personal beliefs to guide a society’s actions. Politicians should be, then, those persons who hold such personal beliefs that the society which they help govern trusts them to shape policies in such a way so as to mirror its own shared personal beliefs and interests, insofar as they are held with such conviction that they are uncompromisable. With this in mind, the trend towards more democratic elections in nations nowadays strengthens the control which societies can hold over their workplace policy shapers, their personal belief representatives—their politicians.

Seeing as there is an occupation dedicated to defining the beliefs to guide workplace practices, any complaint with those belief-influenced policies should be handled via politics, not occupational protest. When persons disagree with the personal beliefs which surround a particular occupation, instead of not fulfilling the assigned duties of that occupation, they can instead work to remove the politicians in office whose personal beliefs shaped or maintain the offending policies in order to rectify the policies to something more in line with the beliefs of that society. Or, be that politician amenable enough, they can simply work to foster a dialogue in which that person’s beliefs themselves are modified to influence that policy differently. Regardless, the vehicle for protest or change should be in the political field, not in the workplace. Citizens rely on the fulfilment of an occupation’s duties for a high-functioning society, and so to follow the latter is ultimately a disservice to that society and its citizens for one’s own selfish interests in seeking employment that he or she did not fully agree with, and with that, failing to keep one’s personal beliefs out of the workplace.

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