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Sydney Poitier Modality

Natalia J. Garland

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The original title of this essay was "Take Pride in Your Work," but I decided it sounded a little too pedagogical. That is, however, the gist of today's topic. There has been much discussion on whether government leaders and agencies were doing their jobs in advance of September 11th: who knew or did not know, who acted or failed to act. I am not a political analyst or even a news junkie, but I do have strong feelings about professionalism and taking pride in one's work.

We all know how difficult it is to find good qualified professionals and workers in any field. Try to find a good doctor, a good car mechanic, a good hairdresser, a good show on television, a good computer, a good umbrella, a good perfume that does not smell like every other perfume.

The concept of healthy personal pride is really at the heart of doing good work. It is what I refer to as the Sydney Poitier Modality. I have been a fan of Poitier and his movies for a long time. Poitier's roles were about pride in work and strength of character. He proved that one man can make a difference. Representative of this theme were movies such as Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, To Sir With Love, and Separate but Equal. Poitier showed that one man, one person of conviction, can make his corner of the world a better place just by doing his job.

There are many variables, for example, as to why therapists do not follow rules or work together well with others. The employer/employee relationship seems to prompt some people to re-enact old negative parent/child relationships. Some employees just have a problem with any authority figure and some employers cannot handle positions of power: a very bad combination. Then there are always personality issues. Try getting a narcissistic employer to admit he is wrong. Try getting a passive-aggressive employee to turn in her paperwork on time.

There are also combinations of pressures from within and without that can reach out-of-control proportions. Lack of funding, skeleton staffing, high turnover of employees, decrease or increase in referrals, agency mergers, changes in state accreditation requirements, changes in insurance procedures: all of these stressors can make it a struggle to stay focused on patient care. In extreme situations where the mission statement seems to have been forgotten, the ultimate response may be to leave a particular job and move on.

Our government officials and employees are expected to serve and protect. Protecting us from injury or death by terrorism is now a major concern. It is not too different for those of us in the mental health professions. Society, the state licensing boards, our employers, our patients and their families expect us to serve and protect. We are entrusted to make things better, not worse.

For example, we are not to permit patients to commit homicide or suicide. If a patient commits a homicidal or suicidal act because we failed to take a mental status, failed to get a good history, failed to recognize and follow up on signs and symptoms, then we should rightfully be held accountable. These kinds of mistakes could be catastrophic or lethal.

The nifty thing about my Sydney Poitier Modality of employment is that each worker holds himself or herself accountable to their own highest standards. This assumes, of course, that each individual has acquired a work ethic and is internally motivated to achieve excellence. This is a quality that parents and teachers need to instill in children, and a quality that can be learned by imitating worthy role models such as Mr. Tibbs.

Taking pride in one's work becomes its own reward. Good work speaks for itself. It creates a healthy interdependence and keeps the wheels of society turning. Everyone can appreciate a lovely garden, a dependable car, a successful surgery, a sober neighbor, a safe airport. It is not too late for us to view some Poitier videos and engender that same undefeatable ethic. (Written 06/17/02 - Revised 12/01/03)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2002, 2003 Natalia J. Garland