Building Bridges (to one another)

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.
– Isaac Newton

We see that “building bridges” metaphor often when someone is referring to the work done by translators and interpreters. We bridge languages and cultures by enabling people to communicate effectively, even if they do not speak, read, or understand the same language. But there are other bridges that are also important, in fact, I would say essential, for us to build and maintain throughout our careers: bridges to one another.

One of the great challenges we must tackle as professional interpreters and translators is learning how to be colleagues and competitors at the same time, particularly those who work as independent contractors or have their own business. The line that separates those two can get blurred sometimes and we have to be very careful not to stray too far from the middle ground because there may be times when the only person who can give us a hand is precisely the one competing with us in the same market.

Suppose you have an interpreting assignment scheduled for 9:00 a.m. and when you wake up that morning you realize you have such a sore throat you can’t even talk. Who will you text to come to your rescue? Or say you have a translation deadline and when you are still halfway done you get a call to go to the hospital because someone very close to you has had an accident. Who can you trust to finish that job for you and help you save face with the client? Indeed! It’s that colleague who offers her freelance professional services to your same pool of clients (or potential clients.)

If this has not happened to you yet, chances are it will! You will need the help of someone you can trust and respect to cover for you in an emergency. That trust and respect is something we each have to earn, it is not automatic just because we all belong to the same group of professionals. It is the natural consequence of the manner in which we behave towards our colleagues—whether or not we are in their presence.

Think of doctors, and specialists within that community of health professionals: how often have you heard one doctor speak ill of another one? Even when they do not like each other, or disagree with a colleague’s treatment protocol, they will never say so openly to a patient. In fact, attorneys in medical malpractice lawsuits have a very hard time finding expert witnesses because those who belong to the same community refuse to testify against one of their own. Therefore, experts have to be “imported” from other parts of the country, or else they are “professional experts” who hire their services as such and do not really belong to a community of practicing physicians.

Building bridges of professional solidarity strengthens our individual and collective standing in the communities we serve, be it legal, medical, or any other. When outsiders see members of a profession speaking ill of each other or otherwise attempting to undermine their reputation (evidently to seize a larger share of the market), the negative impact of such behavior goes far beyond the individual, making everyone look bad. It is embarrassing even when outsiders are polite and remain unaligned with one side or the other.

It actually serves no one’s best interest to create or encourage divisions among members of a professional group. And while it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to agree on everything all the time, we certainly can have an expectation of respectful civility, even when we cannot see eye to eye on a given issue. So let’s each one of us work on building more bridges to our fellow interpreters and translators, and encourage all our colleagues and competitors to do the same.

4 Comments
  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 14:30h, 28 March Reply

    “It actually serves no one’s best interest to create or encourage divisions among members of a professional group.”

    So well said, Janis! I recall that when organizing the 2013 Finding the Parallels conference in Orlando, FL (http://www.interpreter-training.com/content/Conference/FTP-Summary.pdf) that was one of my concerns. I wanted to show a united front, focus on the similarities and point out the differences as nodes where the different interpreting realms interact without commingling. You can read about it in the link above.

    Thank you for reinforcing that point!

  • Janis
    Posted at 21:52h, 28 March Reply

    Thank you, Gio. This is a basic principle I live by and try to promote every chance I get, so I’m really glad you share it, too. Plus, I believe this is what NAJIT is all about, as well.

  • Francesca Samuel
    Posted at 18:16h, 02 April Reply

    Janis, you are right on target!

    “The line that separates those two can get blurred sometimes and we have to be very careful not to stray too far from the middle ground because there may be times when the only person who can give us a hand is precisely the one competing with us in the same market.”

    So important to remember during these challenging times in our profession!

    Thanks for sharing some of your wisdom.

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 11:29h, 04 April Reply

      Happy to oblige, Francesca! Thanks for the positive feedback. ¡Un abrazo!

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