My problem with honorifics

I'm not a fan of titles, which is a nice way of saying that I really, really hate titles. 

Let me explain. 

I have several good friends who have earned doctorates in a variety of fields.

Some are actual medical doctors. If a person is having a heart attack on an airplane and the flight attendant asks if there is a doctor onboard, these are the people who can rightfully stand up and offer assistance.

Others possess doctorates in various non-medical fields: education, public policy, sociology, literature, mathematics, and more. These are folks who remain in their seats during the onboard medical emergency, keenly aware of the limitations of their doctoral title. 

Some of these people make use of their doctoral title in professional settings.
Some use it in personal settings, too.
Others do not.
It was years before I learned that some of my friends had earned a doctorate.  

Here is my problem with titles like these:

A title like "doctor" is a signal of exceptionally hard work and great academic accomplishment, but it also quite often coincides with the opportunity to engage in this level of academic pursuit. These are intelligent, dedicated individuals who in most cases benefited from parents who supported them at some point during the pursuit of higher education. These are people who were sent to college by their mothers and fathers. Dropped off at the dorms with futons and small refrigerators and desk lamps. These were folks who had some or all of their college education paid for by their parents.

There is a lot of research on the socioeconomics of doctoral candidates that support this assertion

Doctoral candidates tend not to be people who were forced to work 40 or 60 hours a week while attending college just to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. While their accomplishments are no less impressive, they have almost always been earned alongside a certain degree of unwavering familial support.

But what about the people who are perfectly capable of earning a doctorate or other title-conferring degree but did not have the opportunity to do so because of life circumstances?

Take my friend, Amy, for example. Amy is a woman who was raised by a drug addicted mother and an abusive father. She taught herself to drive at the age of 12 so she could bring her mother to the grocery store and force her to buy food for herself and her sisters. Her childhood was filled with uncommon struggle and an unacceptable level of neglect and abuse. 

When Amy was young, she was shot in the head and survived. She earned a large settlement as a result of the shooting that she intended to use to pay for college only to discover that her mother had spent the money on drugs. Seeing no other way of paying for college, Amy transformed herself into an outstanding soccer player and earned an athletic scholarship to Sacred Heart University. She graduated with honors and began a teaching career by day and working at night as a waitress and bartender in order to pay off student loans and eventually fund and earn a Master's degree.

Working two jobs while attending college is an incredibly difficult thing. I know. I did it myself.  

Amy taught alongside me for several years before rising to the level of vice principal. She is currently home with her first child and expecting her second, but someday in the not-to-distant future, she will be the principal of a school. She has no doctoral degree and may never have the opportunity to earn one given her life circumstances, but is Amy any less deserving of such a title?

I don't think so.

In fact, she might be more deserving of a title than anyone I know. 

Honorifics and titles rarely tell us much about a person. They are capital and lowercase letters and bits punctuation that we place ahead of a name as a moniker of some significance, but truthfully, they mean little when it comes to taking the measure of a person.   

I know some remarkable people in possession of doctoral degrees. I know some wholly unimpressive people in possession of them well.   

And while their title may indicate a certain level of education, they are also often indicators of stable childhood homes, loving parents, a certain level of socioeconomic upbringing, a absence of debilitating injuries or diseases, and much more.

This is why I hate titles. People mistake them as meaning something. Worse, they leave people like Amy without a much deserved title.  

This TED Talk by Regina Hartley speaks to this issues well. I highly recommend it.

I've never done this medically inadvisable thing that you probably do often

Two years ago I posted a list of 9 things that I have never done that most people in the world have tried at least once. 

Today I add a tenth item to the list:

I've never inserted a Q-tip or cotton swab of any kind into my ear.

Every doctor in the world will tell you that you should never clean your ears with a Q-tip or cotton swab. It is bad for many reasons and can cause permanent hearing damage. 

Even Unilever, the company that makes Q-tips and depends upon people ignoring this universal warning in order to stay in business, advises its customers not to insert their product into ears with warning labels on the packaging.

Nevertheless, I've watched countless people, including my wife, clean their ears with Q-tips. I've watched mothers clean their children's ears with Q-tips. And even though they have read the warning labels and are fully aware of doctor's warnings about this behavior, they continue to risk permanent hearing loss for the sake of an ear with slightly less wax than before.


I didn't grow up with Q-tips in my home, so the habit of cleaning the ear with cotton swabs was one that I never developed.

As an adult, I was fully aware of the dangers involved and have always avoided this process.

In fact, I don't think I've ever purchased Q-tips in my life. They are in my bathroom closet because my wife purchases them, but I have never used one on myself or my children.

And so my list of things I have never done that most people have tried at least once is now ten items long.    

  1. Never watched a single episode of The Real Housewives, The Jersey Shore, or anything involving those Kardashian people
  2. Never used an illegal drug in my entire life 
  3. Never bought a lottery ticket
  4. Never smoked a cigarette
  5. Never revealed a secret that I was asked to keep
  6. Never swore in the presence of my mother
  7. Never shoplifted
  8. Never taken a selfie
  9. Never actually said the word “selfie” aloud
  10. Never inserted a cotton swab of any kind into my ear

Butchers and doctors should not look alike.

Am I the only one who thinks it odd (and deeply disconcerting) that doctors and butchers dress so similarly for work?

You can’t lie to a man with a penis

My son was circumcised yesterday. I was not at the hospital at the time (appropriately enough, I was playing golf), but the doctor told my wife that Charlie didn’t cry a bit.

As a human being equipped with my own penis, I assured my wife that this was not true. Perhaps he did not wail as much as one might if an arm or a leg were completely severed, but there were cries of pain. That, I said, was a certainty.

It turns out that I was correct. The nurse who was present at the circumcision popped into my wife’s hospital room minutes before we were to leave to say goodbye, and she reiterated this fairy tale about the painless circumcision to me.

“He didn’t cry at all?” I asked.

“Not at all. But he was numbed before the doctor began the procedure, so he didn’t feel a thing.”

“How did he feel about the needle you injected into his penis? Did he cry then?'”

“Well, yeah,” she admitted. “He cried then.”

I was going to point pout that differentiating between the pain associated with the anesthesia and the pain associated with the actual procedure doesn’t mean much to the person who is dealing with the pain, but I decided to remain silent. I was trilled to be bringing our son home, and I did not want to spoil the moment with unnecessary oration. 

But I wasn’t surprised by this fairy tale circumcision. I have enormous respect for doctors and nurses, but when it comes to describing pain, I've said it before and I’ll say it again:

They cannot be trusted.