Sydney Poitier Modality
Natalia J. Garland
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.
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.
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