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Vocation

The virtue of gratitude can, I claim, open the professional to an awareness of what is inherited and what he or she can give to society through service in a chosen career. Gratitude does not live in a vacuum; it is important, therefore, that it feature as an element of every course of professional education. It is the key to the quality of the relationship that a solicitor or an accountant seeks to celebrate both personally and in professional practice. There is sound evidence, as we have seen, to support the view that a grateful person is open to wider opportunities of service and appreciative of a greater range of social relationships. The breadth and depth of gratitude is, above all, presented in the Christian theological framework that has informed the basis of this book: nothing is excluded. It is not, of course, the case that only Christians can appreciate this dimension of life. Aquinas, for example, celebrated the virtues of Aristotle, who was to him the preeminent outsider: “Everything Thomas does, he does for love of God who delights to make strangers, and even enemies, friends” (Decosimo, 2014, p. 1). To live with an inclusive perspective in a world that God sees is good and beautiful stimulates good professional practice because it is divinely personal and informing of good character.

A person may feel called toward a particular career: one may have a vocation. Properly understood, this implies that one has identified a career to which one believes one can give one’s whole self in the service of the good society. We rarely hear such language now, but I sense that it is gradually gaining purchase again on our human sensibility. A vocation is not simply a matter of liking to do something because one likes it, because one finds that one has a talent for it, or because it will enable one to earn a good living. Of course it may, one believes, fulfill all those things, but the primary motivation for the career one is choosing is that it will fulfill one’s sense of self because it satisfies an essential need if society is to flourish. In the second of Aristotle’s senses of what it means to love oneself, it enables one to love oneself because one has rationally chosen to be a person who will identify himself or herself with what is excellent and of good report. In such a situation, one can, as Wittgenstein said, speak the truth because one is already at home in it and therefore loves it.

Medical courses will encourage the use of language that affirms the selfhood of every human being and refrains from reducing persons to cases. This is not only a moral necessity but a practical recognition of the fact that by so doing, the health of both the doctor and the patient will be encouraged. A doctor who maintains a liberal education will grow personally, thus extending the range of personal understanding and the capacity to empathize with the patient. The doctor will be compassionate, able to converse easily with a patient and therefore confirm in the patient’s mind that he or she is being treated as an equal moral interlocutor. Recent research tends to support the view that even apparent unconsciousness may still leave a patient aware of the quality of the personal relationship he or she shared with the persons who care.

Doctors may protest that they have no time for “general education,” including such things as reading short stories, taking an interest in astronomy, or doing things that seem, on superficial examination, not to contribute to their medical—scientific—knowledge. But that is to misunderstand the practice of medicine, let alone the nature of scientific inquiry. The medical profession is concerned to heal the person, not merely to cure the body. The truth on which doctors are focused is an open attention to everything that contributes to good health. Analogously, one can affirm the same of the teacher, the police officer, the lawyer, the accountant, and so on. One of the best educated people I ever had the good fortune to meet was a general in the British Army. He had not only a fine knowledge of military strategy and military history but also a passionate conviction that any military person who was seriously concerned with peacemaking needed constantly to deepen his or her understanding of human nature. History, literature, music, the visual arts, and conversation all combined to make him or her a person who would be a good general.

But let’s be clear: none of this is of any value in the professional life unless there is a thorough specialist knowledge of the law, medicine, policing, military matters, teaching, banking, or whatever. As a professional, I must profess my discipline and practice my profession. My vital point is that not only is this professional competence not sufficient for good professional practice, but it is the easiest ingredient of good professional practice, hence the vital dimension that a sense of vocation adds to professional practice: serving society through meeting the needs of the client in whose presence one stands, when done well, serves the common good. Both professional and client are grateful for the personal service and the wider satisfaction of the common good. But in order to be able to go on serving the common good, one needs to be confident that one is living in the real world. So what is the real world?

 
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