The danger of pretense: Are we raising a generation of fakes?

18 May

I went to a presentation on ” professionalism” yesterday given to some students by an agency. The entire event was a warning about what not to do if you wanted people to admit you to college, give you a scholarship, or hire you after you finished your education. Do not post controversial ( not defined) things on Facebook, do not dress provocatively or inappropriately, do not use a lot of slang, do not post pictures of yourself that might be offensive online, do not , do not, do not. I realize that I am a dinosaur and perhaps my time the “We are real people, skilled, flawed and all” has past. While it is perfectly logical that one should not take pictures of one’s naughty bits and post them on the internet ( I doubt even the young folks have to be told that if they are of average intelligence) what does what I have on have to do with what I can do? And what the hell does “being professional” mean? I once had a colleague, no longer with us, who spent her time exhorting students ( in what I thought was a most unprofessional manner) to wear suits, be polite, shake hands a certain way, always carry a business card, not share any opinions or make any statements that might offend someone, etc This professional expert was eventually removed from her job for doing some very unprofessional things, some of which bordered on malfeasance. I have to wonder if she thought wearing a suit, refraining from making controversial comments and being polite ( but only to certain people in her case) made up for being basically a dishonest toad.

What happened to American character? Very few people who were admired and famous in previous times were always polite, always non-controversial, always well dressed always cooperative.Are we telling young people that if they keep their mouths shut, do not expose any of their real personality quirks or venture out of other people’s comfort zones they will be successful? We have a new billionaire in the guise of the creator of Facebook this week. Wonder if anyone told him starting something where people can say and post pictures of inappropriate things was unprofessional and would hurt his career? Was it professional of Bill Gates to drop out of college? Was it professional of Lafayette to back an upstart country? Was it professional of Thomas Jefferson a slave holder to write ” All men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights?” , wouldn’t it have been safer to write, “some men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, unless it offends the powerful in which case we can talk about it? ”

Let’s have some fun. Let’s imagine some conversations with some famous people in history and the professional consultants

Good Evening Mr. Washington, I believe your first name is George, it is okay if I call you George? We are delighted to guide you through this etiquette dinner to help you with your career path.

Sure, you can call me George, pass the wine please.

Well, George, when you are having dinner with people for the first time it is not really a good idea to indulge in alcohol consumption of any kind, they might get the wrong idea.

I have no interest in what kind of idea they get. The water around here is bad enough to eat a hole in your stomach, pass the wine now.

Okay George, we can revisit that topic later. What would you like to chat about, so we can critique your dinner chat.

What is on my mind right now is how to handle the fact I need that damn colored scientist Benjamin Banneker to pull my buns out of the fire in DC. I had to fire that little alcoholic frog L”Enfant after he tore down houses and generally mucked up the deal. Banneker is the only one who can complete the project, but as a slave owner I hate to have a blackie get that much power. Maybe I can keep it quiet, and give someone white on the staff the credit. I am really tired of dealing with slaves, if Martha’s money had not been so tied up in them I would be happier, wish she had just had buckets of cash!

Uh, George, Mr. Washington, that is not appropriate dinner conversation! Slavery is a touchy subject. Perhaps you should stick to the weather or renovations at Mount Vernon?

The weather huh, do you think we should attack the British before winter or wait until spring? I want those bastards gone from America.

Oh, my Mr. Washington, I think we are going to have to place you in one of our residential workshops, for at least a week!


Hello President Lincoln, it was so nice of you to invite us to the White House. I understand you want us to help make sure your speech is professional. Where and when are you giving it?

April 11th. I understand from my generals that that devil Lee is going to surrender and I will need to make a speech. Here is a draft. We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.

Well Mr. President, this speech will have to be edited. We do not want to appear to be gloating and mentioning General Grant, who is known to drink too much will link your name with him and I am sure you do not want to have that happen. We are known by the company we keep after all. Can’t you just say the South fought hard and we respect them and let’s be friends now that the recent unpleasantness is over?


Good Morning Dr. King! I am your personal coach for the speech you are giving in Washington tomorrow. Can you give me the  subject of it so i can see if it is going to cause controversy? I am mainly interested in tone more than language. I expect you will have a very large audience since I believe it is being televised. We do not want you coming off as some kind of radical. And what are you planning on wearing? I mean , I know you are a fan of Mr. Gandhi but we must eschew anything that looks like it could be confused with a diaper. Clothes do make the man you know!

I am planning on wearing a suit. The subject of my talk is  ” I have a dream.”

Well, I am not certain that is appropriate for a public speech. It sounds rather personal and some people may think you are some kind of unprofessional individual if you are going to talk about dreaming. Can we change that to ” I have a vision?”

No, I don’t think so. Here is the draft of the beginning of the speech, perhaps you can see where I am going:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Dear me Dr. King, this speech is inflammatory! Accusing America of writing a bad check?  Using such divisive language will alienate and upset some people, you have to understand we are trying to make you appear professional and bland so that you do not offend or frighten people. A speech like this will not do you any good in your career, it will make people avoid you. Please let me edit it and put in some more tactful language.


In the election of 2008 part of the popularity of Sarah Palin with some people  was that she spoke her mind, said what she thought, even if it was a bit nutty.  She was pilloried for it by the media. Although I am certainly not a fan of hers, I considered her a nut to be honest, I could understand the appeal to some of having someone who was just her self, flaws and all. Our leaders today are so packaged, so coached, so bland, so careful, so fake, so shallow in what they are allowed to say and how they are allowed to say it that it is difficult to get excited and want to get behind virtually any of them.

In my own career I have been told repeatedly by colleagues, peers, superiors, friends, most of whom had good intentions, that I needed to watch what I say, to be more careful in expressing my opinion. I have lived at least 5.5 of my 6 decades saying what I want to say and expressing myself freely. I have a very good command of language. I can express myself clearly and when speaking in public always, always have data to back up what I say. If it is my opinion and not a fact supporting my opinion I freely say so, and am prepared to explain why I feel that way with logic and reason. I have been told before that I can be intimidating. Since I cannot fire anyone or discipline anyone I ask the people who tell me that why they find me intimidating. It boils down to my vocabulary and the fact that I state my opinions openly, honestly and firmly. I do not yell at people, I do not bully people, I do not try to make them do things they do not want to do. I simply tell them how I see it, and generally only after they ask. If they choose to ignore what I say, that is fine, I have done my due diligence. But speaking truth to power in 2012 America will not do you well all the time.

Graduation speakers all over America this season are telling students to take chances, be their own person, always speak your mind. I hope they all have trust funds if they take that advice. People who hire you often do not want to know your opinion or even your facts. They want the world to look like they think it looks and because they have the money to hire you they intend for you to share their vision. Many, if not most, employers want you to be like Evilene in the Wiz, don’t bring them no bad news. In other words they want you to be “professional”, fake, duplicitous, dissembling and cooperative. Go along or get in trouble, even if what they are doing is wrong. I hope this is a passing trend and my wonderful country will right itself and begin to value honesty and passion as much as it honors lying and pretense. Fortunately for me I am only a few years from retirement and my garden and my family are used to me being exactly who I am all the time. Still, I can have a dream that America will realize that fake nails, fake hair, fake boobs and fake people are all inferior to the real thing! All I know is that I do not give a damn if people say after I am gone, “she was very professional.” I want them to say, she was a trip, but she got things done, she made a difference, she stood up for what she thought was right and she left a legacy that matters. ”  And do not bury me in a suit!


One response to “The danger of pretense: Are we raising a generation of fakes?

  1. E. Rick Copeland

    May 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Provocative and insightful for all! “Do as I say not as I do and all will be ok.”


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