By Caitlin Kelly
Loved this recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, a profile of a Canadian engineer, (now there’s a doubly invisible category!) who designs bridges:
If his work didn’t keep him up so late, he would probably wake up in the middle of the night worrying about it. He points out that the catastrophic 2007 collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis—which he wasn’t involved in—happened during construction work.
Mr. Johnson shows off a gray ring on his right pinkie: “It’s called the iron ring,” he says. In Canada, civil engineers wear the iron ring on their drawing hand as a symbol of their oath to protect life and limb. “We have to make sure everything we do is infallible,” he says.
I love the physical reminder, worn every day after graduation, that a civil engineer has chosen to create things that millions of us rely on every day to be functional and safe.
I really like this tradition of making a public (and/or) physical vow of responsibility.
My first husband was a physician. I attended his graduation from McGill medical school and watched his class, aloud, recite together the Hippocratic Oath, which begins with “First, do no harm.” It was powerful, moving and unforgettable. Every graduating physician says these words.
Even if they do do harm, and it happens to many of them in the course of a career, they all know they made a vow now to.
We seem to live now in an era of the deke, the dodge, the “I have no knowledge”, the denial, the shrug. We’re left to watch, in New York, the miserable, unending parade of elected officials being charged with fraud, theft, deception, bribery and corruption.
Wall Street? Don’t get me started.
I wish — how I wish! — there were similar public, shared, hallowed rituals for every profession and field of endeavor. Especially finance, politics and journalism, three fields whose decisions can profoundly alter the lives and fortunes of millions of others, people who depend on them for wisdom, good faith and honesty.
What do you think of this tradition?