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True and False Loyalty to a Profession

True loyalty to a profession is a product of the commitment to ensure that the profession, both in general and in particular cases, serves the public interest. False loyalty to a profession is formed either by an uncritical acceptance of the "ideology" every group engenders, or arises as a product of a fear of being disapproved or punished by other members of the profession—if one deviates from expected behavior. In being socialized into a profession—and socialization is part of being trained in a profession—one learns how to present oneself to outsiders, how to express one's authority as a professional, and how to protect fellow professionals from criticism—except in group-approved ways.

True loyalty to a profession is born of recognition of the profession's potential power for good in the world. It is not blind commitment to practices in the profession as they stand. It is not given by the intensity with which one defends the profession. The fact is that ethically sensitive persons who are also astute thinkers find themselves, from time to time, in dilemmas in which they are torn between their consciences, on the one hand, and the in-group pressure not to publicly criticize the profession, on the other.

Consider the legal profession. True loyalty to the profession of the law, for example, derives from a commitment to the creation of a society in which just laws are applied justly to individuals and institutions, irrespective of the power, wealth, and social status of those individuals and institutions. Such loyalty recognizes that all the legal professions are to be judged by the degree to which they enhance personal and social justice. Such loyalty begins with a recognition that the law as applied in society is far from the law as it should be applied, and that justice is not always served by the established legal system.

False loyalty to the legal profession takes the form of a defense of those dimensions of the law that fail to serve the end of justice—sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of ignorance, and sometimes out of vested interest. When persons are socialized into a profession so as to become uncritical defenders of the present practices of the profession; both the profession and the potential good of the profession suffer. To put this another way, a person retards the development of a profession by uncritically defending it. This defensiveness engenders a false sense of loyalty. Conversely, when practitioners recognize weaknesses in a profession, they are well on their way to contributing to its strengths. It is a strength, an important strength, to recognize one's weakness. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached the phase of development of human professional knowledge wherein each profession, as taught, routinely discloses publicly its most salient weaknesses and failures.

We should all come to recognize the limitations of those professions, with which we must deal, beginning with the problem of false loyalty.

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