The word professionalism is rarely used in modern society. In the legal field, we are required to accumulate a certain amount of professionalism credits for CLE (Continuing Legal Education) in order to remain licensed, but little else is actually emphasized in this area. Maybe that could be the source of some of the public scrutiny of lawyers.

But, professionalism applies to every single human endeavor. Lawyers, doctors, builders, subcontractors, farmers, bankers, businessmen, volunteers, and even retirees either practice professionalism in their daily lives or care nothing for it.

I define professionalism as the conduct of an individual that demonstrates honor, integrity, and civil behavior toward adversaries in their line of work or volunteering. Do I always provide a great example of professionalism in my job? Of course not. I have mentioned many times that I possess personal character defects that from time to time separate me from God. However, I do recognize this and strive to improve my level of professionalism on a daily basis with God’s help. That is all I can do.

The opposite of professionalism is a term that I may have just created called personalism. I define personalism as the mind set and conduct of a person who exhibits selfishness, the desire to “win” at any cost, turning away from God, and treating competitors and adversaries with contempt and/or disrespect. Unfortunately, personalism seems to be the natural human reaction when we are placed under enormous stress or when things are not “going our way.”

The best example that I can think of this week of choosing between professionalism and personalism happened to me on May 9. In response to an appellate brief that I had submitted to the Georgia Court of Appeals, the opposing counsel suggested that part of my argument to the court was that the trial attorney had been untruthful with the court. Opposing counsel had completely misinterpreted my argument. I also felt that he had called my own character into question by his statements. To further aggravate the issue, I consider both the trial and appellate attorney (opposing counsel) my friends.

So, for a minute, I was angry, bitter, and ready to pick up the phone and treat opposing counsel with the same disrespect that I felt like I had been shown. Then, after 5 minutes, I prayed for guidance. Instead of making that phone call to my adversary, I simply sat back in my chair and made no response at all. I realized that my work on the case was professionally done. I know that the appellate court will recognize that. Besides, the actions of other people are beyond my control.

I also have to forgive others when their professionalism does not rise to the level that I think it should. I know of many instances when I have fallen very short in this area.

Every week, there are numerous opportunities to practice one of these two principles. Some weeks are better than others. But, putting forth your best effort to act professional in your line of work regardless of those “emergencies” that come along during the week will significantly increase your quality of life and you will better serve your clients, patients, customers, friends, bosses, employees, and those in need.

Professionalism or personalism? Which will you choose today?