Brian, an attorney acquaintance, shared his coffee break with me last week. He explained that he wanted to take a vacation break but the sentencing portion of a criminal trial had not yet been completed. The vacation would allow him to enjoy some badly needed R & R because his case load has been heavy this year. Brian said he was also eager to drop his professional aloofness for a few days because it makes him feel like an automaton.
I asked why so many lawyers and leaders seem to have cool, distant personalities. Aside from Brian, they don’t seem to be the warm, fuzzy type of people.
Brian replied that this attitude is cultivated so as to avoid becoming too involved in their clients’ personal lives. If they become too attached, there is the danger of losing the evaluative skills of objectivity and discernment. He said it is similar to physicians not becoming personally involved with their patients. He noted that while doctors may have a warm personality and good bedside manners, they have strict professional boundaries to observe. The same pretty much is the case for lawyers.
A fair measure of aloofness by attorneys and doctors also helps ensure psychological health because clients and patients are experiencing difficult, heart-rending times. It’s hard to benefit others when each other’s emotions become intertwined. Brian explained that sometimes outsiders accuse them of being arrogant and narcissitic. While this may or may not be true, it is important for the professionals to cultivate a certain degree of aloofness.
Brian went on to note that quite often he becomes mentally active while forming strategies and arguments to use in court. It does not mean that he is aloof and cut off from others, it’s just that he’s extremely deep in thought. Similar experiences happen to everyone when they mull things over in their heads.
I was reminded that my great-uncle Ivan said that to cultivate good personal character and awareness one must exercise a certain amount of social distancing. This is different for each person, so one must be skillful in applying this type of aloofness. Ivan compared this skill as “personal etiquette”. In today’s lingo, we call it maintaining personal boundaries.
A similar form of aloofness is cultivated by good journalists. Striving towards objectivity helps keep the reporter from becoming attached to the subjects of the story; thus preventing him from becoming an advocate or critic. They are aware of their subjective opinions and do their best to rein them in.
Journalists are doing their jobs well when they report just the facts and the scenarios in as objective a manner as possible. Once there is over-involvement with a story, its outcome becomes an object of desire. Then the reporter crosses the line from journalist to commentator. In my opinion, the presence of so many commentators in the media have contributed to the present-day public dislike of the media in general.
In short, Brian reminded me that aloofness is not necessarily a negative or toxic mode of behavior. Often times it is necessary in order to carry on the business within civilized society. He also mentioned that oftentimes shyness is mistaken as aloofness. On that point, we were on common ground. Both of us were painfully shy boys in our school days. We had both been thought of as “stuck up”. In our minds, we simply lacked social skills and didn’t know how to acquire them.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this caution from composer, musicologist, philosopher, psychologist, and sociologist, Theodor W. Adorno. “He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest.”