Sociologist Erving Goffman has pointed out that all social groups, including professionals, develop a protective attitude toward members of their group, even when what some of the members do is...

Sociologist Erving Goffman has pointed out that all social groups, including professionals, develop a protective attitude toward members of their group, even when what some of the members do is seen as morally wrong.  A sense of loyalty to the group often overrides what they would otherwise deem immoral.Consider the arguments for and against exposing people with whom you are personally close or with who you have close professional ties.  Develop a position on this issue that could serve as a guide for anyone in such a position.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Goffman's insights on the professional sense of self, the self that we project "on stage for others," is a relevant one.  It strikes at the very being of one's sense of self in the professional realm.  Goffman might very well suggest that the sense of loyalty to the group that overrides what they would deem immoral is a reflection of the "drama" that compels individuals to act for the sake of others:"  

And to the degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others. 

This condition helps to make the individual their own "jailer" of sorts, imprisoned by the role that they must play.  Goffman's analysis suggests the sense of loyalty that might emerge in the professional setting is a reflection of the role that individuals play on stage for others.  The fact that individuals might silence their own conscience is an extension of this role.  This becomes part of the "onstage performance" aspect of individual identity.

The arguments against exposing people with whom one is personally close or with one towards whom professional ties are evident are based on the continuation of this role.  Goffman would suggest that the more we internalize this role on a personal level, the better the actor we are on the public stage. In a sense, refusing to speak out against moral or ethical transgressions in our public roles helps to make us a better actor.  For example, if I see a professional colleague do something immoral  in the workplace and I don't speak out, it becomes interpreted as me being a "good colleague."  This enhances my professional role, making my acting better.  The implications of this position is that I end up becoming more lost in the performance "front stage."  I am perceived as a stronger agent of my professional being, and my role is enhanced.  

At the same time, Goffman might also suggest that if individuals are able to speak out in conjunction with their own conscience in the workplace or with individuals where there are perceived personal connections, it helps to enhance the individual's "backstage" condition.  Goffman argues that individuals have an "offstage" reality, a persona where more of their own personal realities are evident.  Being able to facilitate this aspect of our being is another part of human identity.  While it is difficult to contradict our public acting, at some points, the stage will darken.  At some point, the audience goes home. When these realities happen, the individual has to confront who they truly are as the glare of the spotlight on stage dims.

Being able to speak from a position that honors both the acting on stage that must take place, but also reflect a condition where the individual is able to be alone, apart from the public, represents a critical development of our identity. It is from this point where I would suggest that individuals cannot blindly accept or tolerate the moral or ethical transgressions that take place within our on stage aspect of being.  This might even take the form of knowing that such transgressions cannot be replicated by the individual.  However, it is critical that the individual not silence the voice that criticizes such immorality or lack of ethical conduct.  Goffman might argue that being able to sustain both realities can help to make a fuller and more actualized consciousness.