Not in My Home, You Don’t

**Flashback First Friday continues with a piece on honesty in the profession from 3 years back**

     Recently, I had some work done at the house. It was a simple installation of a security system, done by a pretty reputable company with a clean-cut salesman at the helm. Even the installer seemed to be nice enough: big smile, joked around, worked efficiently and kept his mess to a minimum.

     At some point in the process, this installer asked me to take a look at something he’d done to the system. No problem. What I was surprised (shocked!) to hear him tell me was that he could sell me an upgrade on the side that takes advantage of products removed from other clients’ homes. My mind immediately flashed to a suburban version of a guy in a dark alley asking if I wanted to buy a watch!  My heart was saddened as I respectfully declined the offer, yet I couldn’t help but feel offended at such dishonesty in my own home. The positive image I had of the installer was actually ruined.

     When I got to thinking about my experience, I saw a clear parallel to the ethical principles of our profession that deal with accurate representation of our qualifications. By extension, when we’re asked to work as interpreters and translators in any setting, we’re being entrusted first and foremost with a specific task required for somebody else’s “home”—be it their court, their clinic, their conference or their document. They’re trusting that we’ll be honest about what we do, from stating our credentials and experience to the specific words or techniques we use in practice.

     We’ve all heard stories about interpreters who call themselves “certified” when the reality is that they can only claim to have a certificate from a program; or the translators out there who rely exclusively on machine translation and charge as if they actually put some thought into their work. Happily, we don’t necessarily fit into either of those extreme categories if we’re conscientious professionals who do, indeed, possess the proper skills, training and experience to practice our craft. But does that mean that we’re not susceptible to falling into a “misrepresentation” trap too?

     Consider the times when, perhaps, you’ve been called upon to defend a particular term or phrase you used in a translation or an interpreting session. Can you truly say you were always open to the possibility that your choice was inadequate, inaccurate, and well-deserving of the challenge? Have you ever felt tempted to save face by stretching the truth so that your choice is made out to be a good synonym when it was, at best, only a related term? Food for thought, at the very least.

     I hope we can all answer the above by saying we’d never lead our client into thinking we’re right when, in fact, we’re wrong. With this hope in mind, I would call upon myself, and my professional colleagues, to continue to respect others’ “homes” and be completely honest about what we’re doing. It’s not always guaranteed to be the easy path, but it is widely held that it’s the mark of the true professional to know where limitations lie, and where it may be necessary to stand corrected or even decline an attractive offer of work.

     It may not be so easy to take a long, hard look at ourselves and seek to identify where we can apply the honesty principle. It may even take a friend telling us where our flaws lie, and our comparing them to our own perceptions. One thing to consider is that the criticism we often find easy to express about others could be said about us, as well. If the heart knows that we’ll always be susceptible to making mistakes, we’ll always need to polish our skills, and we’ll always seek whatever is the right thing to do, it’s a good start, for sure. Knowing we’re tasked with being qualified to do what we do, and essentially proving it with every word, can admittedly be a daunting challenge at times—but it’s what our clients and the profession require of us.

     There’s a writer I’ve followed for several years now who talks about issues of character–often posing very difficult questions about what true honesty is, and is not, and where we can stand to improve our attitudes about the value of truth. While he’s always quick to acknowledge how difficult it can be to consistently speak the truth, that doesn’t negate my professional responsibility to do my darndest to avoid being perceived like that installer who dared to offer me goods obtained in a not-so-honest manner. Maybe everyone has a personal line to draw, but for sure there’s a line, and if we apply our ethics, that line can be quite clear, indeed.

Further reading:

NAJIT Code of Ethics: Canon 7. Accurate Representation of Credentials: Court interpreters and translators shall accurately represent their certifications, accreditations, training and pertinent experience.

Professional Standards and Ethics for California Court Interpreters “Representation of Qualifications: An interpreter must accurately and completely represent his or her certifications, training, and relevant experience. ―California Rules of Court, rule 2.890(a)  […] Never misrepresent your qualifications and credentials in order to obtain work. Your reputation and the reputation of the entire profession are at stake.”

American Translators Association Code of Ethics and Professional Practice “We the members of the American Translators Association accept as our ethical and professional duty […] 3. to represent our qualifications, capabilities, and responsibilities honestly and to work always within them […]”

2 thoughts on “Not in My Home, You Don’t”

  1. Athena Matilsky says:

    Thank you jennifer! I never saw the original post so I’m glad you re-posted this…it is a good reminder of how important it is to avoid even the appearance of a lapse in ethical principles. It is so important for us to examine ourselves and to heed others’ observations when they are relevant.

  2. As I prepare to teach a webinar on medical and judicial ethics for interpreters, I look for interesting experiences my colleagues may have had in this facet of our profession, and I like the example you provided. Every day we are making decisions on a personal and professional basis about what is acceptable and what is wrong, be it at home, at work or in the community. It’s good to get these refreshers. Thanks!

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