Why do we say that we hold certain people to higher standards? Teachers, law enforcement officers, athletes who have achieved a certain stature, when they make a mistake, we generally say that they are not upholding the standards that we expect of them. Yes, that’s something of a convoluted sentence, but you understand what I mean. Why, why do we do this? Why don’t we hold automobile mechanics or librarians to this ‘higher standard?’ I mean, they’re all just people, people with foibles, people who make the same mistakes you and I might make. The only difference is that their names are on the sports pages or they hold a position of trust…then they turn around and “violate” that trust. Perhaps that’s one of the words we should be using, violation. Another word might be disappointment.
So we have these ‘higher standards’ for some people, but not for others. Is that really the case? I taught police officers and yes, I do hold them to a higher standard than I hold some other people. However, I saw them for 16 hours in a classroom setting. Is it fair for me to judge them based on that brief period, or is it the profession as a whole that I think should be held to a higher standard? The standard in this case, would be that I expect them to be more honest than the average citizen; that I expect them to be more respectful than the average citizen; that I expect them to be…whatever. But, they are still people and probably still have the same weaknesses that other people have. The same is true of all the others whom we say we are holding to a higher standard.
Perhaps I’ve been fortunate…or maybe stupid…or perhaps both. These “higher standard” people I’ve met have generally exceeded my expectations with very few exceptions. It is possible, of course, that my bar or standards may not be as high as those of other people, but I rather doubt it. I only know of one of my former students who was caught up in a rackets scandal and served some prison time, but that’s out of a group of perhaps 4,000. There could have been others, but I just don’t know about them. Yeah, I know, ignorance is bliss.
“Frankly, I expected better from you,” is a statement I have heard only once. I was 16 years old. Although the words used were somewhat different from the polite way it is put in the sentence above, the meaning was all too clear. I have to tell ya, it’s painful to hear, no matter the words that are used. Perhaps I thought that I was getting away with something and got caught. Perhaps I thought that I was doing my best. Heck, that was 66 years ago, and my memory just isn’t that good. The thing I remember quite clearly was walking home feeling hurt, feeling very hurt…so I guess that I did think I was doing my best. Another thing I remember is that I learned over the next couple of weeks exactly how to give my best…lesson learned…the hard way…but learned.
Someone once said to me, “You must have that workshop you teach down pat.” My response was to the effect that I would never have anything I was teaching “down pat.” I never finished a class but that I didn’t feel I could have given more. I never ran a special event where, in critiquing it, I didn’t feel I could have done better. I’ve known other teachers who have told me they felt the same way. I’ve met other special events people who say the same thing. Are we setting the bar too high for ourselves? No, probably not. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your job may be, giving it your very best will not only please others, and you soon learn that it also pleases you. I have been going to the same auto repair shop for over 20 years. Two different mechanics have worked on my car. Whatever is being done, whether it’s a simple oil change, having my brakes repaired, having the front end aligned, or something more complex, I know that when I leave that garage that all of the fluids in the car have been checked; that the tire pressure has been checked; and that if something needs to be done to the car at a later date, I will have learned that before leaving. Both mechanics, as well as the owner of this garage, take great pride in doing their jobs right…the first time.
Setting a high bar for your standards really isn’t all that difficult, yet, some people are content to do the minimum, take the pay check, and walk away. I don’t understand this. If you cannot give your best, why do something at all? On the other hand, we are only people. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes we make mistakes. And, invariably and unfortunately, that’s the time when 60 Minutes has its camera trained directly on us, ergo, keep your standards high and, bad day or not, don’t deviate from that.