Monday, July 11, 2016

Bill James and the world

It is fascinating where certain interesting ideas may be found. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is must reading for any baseball wonk, almost entirely (surprise, surprise) for its in depth analysis of the game and its players. Still, that doesn't mean that every scrap of value found within it is restricted to interpretations of the true American National Pastime.

Mr. James at one point laments the rise of professionalism in our nation over the last fifty years or so, indeed comparing it to the many other -isms which have infected our body politic. Sportswriters and reporters have become journalists, whereas at one time they had the simpler jobs of reporting the news or sports, with someone to answer to if they didn't stick to those specific jobs. But James takes it further: teachers have become educators who teach to tests rather than teach the subject at hand. Cops have become police officers, garbage collectors sanitation workers, and so on.

The result is that we now have self aggrandized professionals in all fields, but to what point? James opines rather well that legal professionals delivered us the O. J. Simpson verdict, but not justice. On other fronts, he says, journalism has made reporting on news and athletic events adversarial rather than benign. Doctors evolving into physicians and nurses into health care professionals have driven the cost of an aspirin in a hospital to $35 while doctors used to make house calls. You get the point.

While we cannot agree with him on every particular (health care costs have went up for reasons beyond and better than a simple change of attitude, even if you believe they have gone father than reason might allow, and reporters are almost naturally adversarial) his general point is well founded. Why do we see teachers so differently lately? At one point, they had the rather straightforward job of making kids sit down, shut up, and pay attention, while expecting and getting the general support of the community. Now, we demand results from them, codified and quantified based on all kinds of data which the general public doesn't understand yet supports in the cause of education. Why can't we be happy that the kids end up with a high school diploma? Surely most of those earned over the course of American history have been reasonably granted?

Why can't cops catch the bad guys and lawyers by turn prosecute or defend them? What are we really seeking when we make things into more than they are? The net result seems to be displayed through that incident with Barbara Boxer awhile back. You know, the one where she asked to be called "Senator" rather than "Ma'am" because she earned it? Instead of becoming the professionals we claim we are, we instead begin to be arrogant about what we in fact perceive ourselves to be.

We do not mean herein to pick on Senator Boxer in particular. Really, we don't; nor do we wish to disparage the jobs which are done every day and well by all the good teachers and cops and doctors and nurses out there in our land. But the sanctification of what, in the final analysis, we as individuals do for a living cannot help us to truly appreciate the necessary jobs being done for us and by us each and every day. It seems that we've lost something of our innocence, indeed of our humility, when we demand a certain grovelling before us as we earn our daily bread.

We hate to say that all a teacher is is a teacher, or that all a doctor is is a doctor. Yet we cannot escape the feeling that a real teacher or a real doctor should feel that way. It is one thing for the general society to venerate any given individual's very good and very much needed work, indeed up to and including that of, say, trash collector (Would you do that? Pick up others' garbage? Then respect the ones who do). But for the professional to demand that treatment, quite frankly, reeks of a lack of professionalism.

By and large, true professionals command the respect they deserve. They command it precisely because they stick to their jobs rather than trumpet about them. They tend to know their place, and to know that they are not irreplaceable. They know their jobs are bigger than they ever will be. They do them in that light: as best they can without ever thinking they are better than anyone else because of it.

Be appreciative of all the things others have done for you. Be humble about what you do for them. If there is a better prescription for a better world, we do not know what it is.

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