Dear Pope Francis,
Within five months I’ll be done of my master’s degree. There is something unique about a Master of Divinity, namely that while it’s a master’s degree, it’s specifically intended to be a professional degree, rather than a primarily a research-based degree. A large component of the work I do in this program is applying the theology I’ve been learning. That might be appropriating it into my own life and spirituality, or developing programs or talks incorporating the information. Some parts have been incredibly practical, like learning some of the ethical issues of being a minister in the Roman Catholic Church, or any Church for that matter.
Often times, people turn to their faith with their questions, their joys and their fears. Turning to their faith can also mean concretely turning to the Church. They build relationships of trust with the various Church leaders, be it a priest, deacon, lay minister, chaplain, whomever. Whether we agree with it or not, leaders are put on a pedestal, held up as an example of how to live, what to think and how to practice the faith. These factors put the minister in a unique position, because they are privy to sensitive information about the people in their congregation, and how the minister responds to that information can drastically influence people’s impressions of the Church as a whole.
Ministers in the Church are not necessarily unique in this relationship of trust. Without realizing it, society often attributes greater respect to different roles and jobs than others. For instance, doctors are often more highly respected than hair stylists based solely on their career. While it is important that we question these unspoken assumptions about respect-based-on-career, people in those careers need to be aware of their position, and act accordingly. There are limits on what is acceptable behaviour for a doctor, police officer, lawyer, journalist, and a variety of others.
My assumptions about some of these professions were highlighted in December when news about a scandal at Dalhousie Dentistry School hit the media. A group of young men had been making misogynistic and utterly inappropriate comments about their female classmates in a private Facebook group. While I don’t want to downplay the important conversations about rape culture and gender inequality that are happening because of this, there is also an important conversation to be had about professional ethics.
Dentists, like other professions, are privy to some sensitive information about their patients. Having spent my fair share of time in a dentist’s chair, I know how nervous some people can be before opening their mouths and letting someone, even someone who has studied for years, poke around in there. I would be even more nervous knowing that my dentist could have been making inappropriate comments about drugging women with the gases he has easy access to.
I understand that these young men are still in school, but they are in a professional school. When I was doing my field placement as a student, I made sure that I was professional, including how I dressed and interacted with everyone in the placement. Professionalism is not something you graduate into, you receive the diploma and then you have to start acting professional. It is something that should be practiced as a student. It is a habit and a skill to be learned, it needs to be practiced.
Does this mean professionals can’t share inside jokes with their peers? Certainly not. What it does mean is that they must be aware of what they are saying about whom, and what they are saying. Are they slandering others, either patients/clients/etc. or peers? Are they spreading gossip? Would they want the person they are talking about to hear what is being said? Depending on your answer, maybe you should rethink what you’re categorizing as ‘inside professional jokes’.