Before I delve too deeply into this topic of the difference between professional status and professional behavior, I want to provide some perspective. I’m not someone who calls people out in public. Getting into arguments with total strangers is not my jam. If it’s a friend, I might send them a private message or an email to point out that their tone or the set of facts they’re working with are… let’s say off-kilter. When it comes to acquaintances, social media “friends”, and the extended audience of their followers and friends, it becomes pointless. People are going to believe what they want, and behave the way they feel like, and not take notes from me. I have no expectation that I can control anyone other than myself.
This is why I’m addressing the general topic here, rather than dealing directly with the people I’m referring to. It’s also why I’m not going to name-and-shame anyone. The point that I’m trying to make, I feel, would be overwhelmed by someone mounting a defense of the specifics if I provided them, because that’s apparently how the internet works. What I try to do, regardless of how you might view my career status or standing within my industry, is behave professionally in public spaces.
Being a professional is no guarantee of professional behavior.
The inciting incident of this story happened on the Facebook post of a “friend” of mine (in quotes, because while we have followed each other for years we rarely interact, and I cannot claim to really know him personally). He issued an articulate and well thought-out opinion on a controversial and widely-panned movie. Someone jumped into the comments and not only attempted to invalidate his opinion, but to state that said friend had no qualifications to issue such an opinion. Again, not an opinion published in a magazine notable for its film criticism, or even an entertainment website. Not even on a Facebook page claiming to offer up expert film reviews. An opinion expressed on his Facebook timeline. If there is one place that I certainly don’t expect anyone to have to produce their bona fides, it’s on personal Facebook timeline.
Now this troll is known for doing this sort of thing. He does it because he has experience in a number of industries, including film. He’s won some awards for some things. Wikipedia has an entry on him. This person likes to throw around the fact that he is a professional, and therefore he should be listened to and respected. He feels entitled to throw professional status around as if it grants him free license to be a rude, disrespectful, repugnant asshole.
My response would have been different from that of my “friend”, because he chose to list his bona fides. And he has them. He’s worked as a reviewer for a number of sites and print publications. I would have just blocked the troll and moved on, rather than trying to defend a personal opinion on a personal page. Like the opinion that started this chain reaction, however, his response was reasoned and measured and calm. He was behaving professionally. The so-called professional was being abusive, privileged, and all-around unprofessional.
This, unfortunately, wasn’t a one-off incident. I’ve been seeing this type of behavior a lot from people who clearly should know better. While I do value expertise, and think that a lot of the world’s problems at the moment stem from a lack of respect for people who know what they’re talking about *cough* climate change *cough* immigration *cough* economics *cough* being a professional does not give you a waiver exempting you from the social contract of civilization and a free pass to ignore the rules of polite society. If nothing else, it should mean that you are held to a higher standard. You know, demonstrating that you’re a professional by acting like a professional.