It's Monday here in the trenches, time for all the angst that happened over the weekend to spill over into the lawyer's office. Family disputes are some of the most difficult ones with which to deal, because often the stated problem isn't really the problem. Emotions change the nature of any conflict, which makes resolution that much more difficult because first you have to identify the emotional drivers. Knowing that, here are a few words of wisdom on this Monday.
"We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are." (Talmud)
"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear, and life stands explained." (Mark Twain)
"If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it." (Mary Engelbreit)
It's been that kind of week here in the trenches, except for a visit from our office testosterone, which is always welcome. Usually those of us here in the trenches have no trouble dealing with what Bill Eddy calls High Conflict People. They are, after all, our bread and butter. You know who we mean, those people for whom nothing is ever their fault, for whom all of their woes are caused by someone else. These folks never see their own complicity in their predicaments, preferring to think that everything in their lives would be perfect if only everybody else would change, if you would make them change. These are not unintelligent people by any means; in fact, many of them are really bright. That's what makes them such a challenge. Usually, those of us here in the trenches handle the issues presented by these folks really well; sometimes, however, it takes its toll and we suffer from compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. This has been one of those weeks. Of course, it's also been a full moon. Any connection?
One of the by-products of the end of a marriage is the intense loneliness experienced by one or both of the partners. The one person with whom you share an intimate relationship, who knows you best, and who accepted you the way you are, no longer wants to occupy that space in your life. Friends of you as a couple begin to distance themselves. Your friends either don't know how to help you or are tired of listening to your constant litany of fear and anxiety. You feel isolated, caught between the world of couples and single people; you are both and neither. You are not free to date, to share intimate moments with someone other than your spouse, but your spouse doesn't want to share them with you either. Depression is common; loneliness its root. As luck would have it, my favorite blogger, Gretchen Rubin, posted today on how to battle loneliness. Read it, follow its advice, and try to enjoy life again. This all will pass and you will feel better. You will make friends, develop new interests, and come alive. It will happen - you just have to give it some help.
Arnold and Maria. Tipper and Al. Two high profile, long lasting marriages that ended. Was it coincidence that both ended right after the husbands ended high power political careers? I think not. Was the end of those marriages caused by the stress of political life? Maybe. Amicable? Not surprising. I often think about the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was married three times. At one point she was asked why all of her marriages failed. Her response was "I beg your pardon. I have had three marriages and NONE of them was a failure." She went on to expound that each of her marriages was successful for the stage of her life in which they occurred. One of the results of our living longer is that our lives have more distinct stages than one, and the same mate may not meet our needs in all of them. The stages of the lives and marriages of Arnold and Maria,Tipper and Al were more distinct and varied than most. The changes to their lives wrought by the husbands' retirement from political office were immense and life altering. It's not surprising that those changes affected their marriages, or that they ended them. The manner in which these people ended their marriages is why we admire them, not the longevity of their unions. Best of luck to them all. 5/17/11: After Arnold Schwartzenager's public confession today and Maria Shriver's reaction thereto, I admire Ms. Shriver even more - Mr. Schwartzenager is another story.
When a client tells me they want their day in court, the reason is almost always that they want "justice." Justice, according to clients, is the upholding of what is morally right and fair. Clients believe that if they can just tell the judge their story, the judge will see that they are right and what they ask for is fair, and that alone will prove to the other party that they are "wrong." Clients believe that if only the judge will hear their story, the judge will side with them, because they are in the right. Unfortunately, judges and lawyers view justice as the administration and procedure of the law to a given set of facts unencumbered by emotion. The law is not necessarily fair, it simply is what it is. Judges are there to make decisions in accordance with the rule of law because the parties can't decide between themselves what is fair. Sometimes, that means a client receives what they feel is justice, and sometimes they don't. It also means that clients who don't play fair and don't follow the rules sometimes are rewarded for their bad behavior. When that happens, it isn't fair, it isn't right, and it sits poorly with me even if it is my client who was rewarded. The fact remains, however, that justice was done, like it or not. Why do you think she's depicted as blind while balancing the scales?
For those of you who don't want to listen to me rant, skip this post. I hate salespeople. When they call, I don't talk to them. When they come to the door, I don't meet with them. Why is that? Because I don't want something forced upon me by a person I don't know. You want to sell me? Get to know me. Don't insert yourself into my world and push your product or service on me. You're violating my space and offending me. It's especially offensive when you do it after I've asked you not to do it. This morning, someone to whom I've explained all this brought two salespeople to our collaborative practice group. It was obvious that he hardly knew these people himself and that these people had no clue what collaborative practice was all about - and they didn't take the effort to find out. All they cared about was what they were selling and whether we were buying. Guess what? Everyone in that room was offended and none of us is buying. The sad part of it is that I bet those salespeople thought they did well. Moral of the story is that unless the customer comes looking for the product, it is the relationship with the buyer that sells the product. Get with the program.
Here in the trenches we sometimes wish that people had to pass a test in order to procreate. Being a parent is more than just giving birth. There are plenty of people out there who have contributed to the birth of a child who are not parents in any sense of the word except biological. Although the law may consider them parents for purposes of supporting a child, they are not parents in my book. A parent is a caregiver, protector, guardian and nurturer of a child. It is a person who not only loves a child, but who is committed to promoting that child's best interest and is capable of understanding what that best interest might be. A parent is not always right, almost never perfect, but has the heart to continue to strive to be the best parent they can be. They work at it because it matters. It doesn't matter if the child likes them or loves them back. It is the love and dedication of a person directed toward a child that makes a parent, even of an adult child, because it's a job for a lifetime.
Let's talk sabotage, self sabotage. Why is it that people shoot themselves in the foot? You know what I mean - when people do something that seems calculated to hurt their cause. I'm not talking about the occasional "Oops", when we inadvertently do something that undermine our goals. I'm talking about purposeful actions that work against your self interest. Why do people do it? In the trenches, the reason is fear. Fear of not being good enough; fear of success; fear of being seen as deserving; fear of being wrong. People are afraid of success and failure, of being right and wrong. That fear makes them act in ways that remove the risk. The problem is that by so acting they guarantee that they will never face their fear, or grow or learn their capabilities. They remain stuck. The funny thing is that we all engage in self-sabotage from time to time. Is it ever healthy? I think so, if you use it as an opportunity to face your fears and to grow from the experience. Facing the fear can be stressful; not facing it is even more so because the actions become a self-fulfilling prophecy that you're not worthy. How much more stressful is continuous failure?
Unfortunately, this is a week where some truly amazing people have died. My friend's son-in-law died yesterday. As you may have guessed from my blog a few weeks ago when he went to Hospice, his death was not unexpected. I don't want to talk about it. I want to talk about his life. He was diagnosed with a truly rare type of cancer 22 months ago, a type of cancer for which the survival rate is measured in months, not years. By months, I mean less than 6. Yet, he survived and truly lived 22 months. This man refused to allow the cancer to define him and to limit his life. In fact, he crammed as much living into his last 22 months as the cancer would allow - canoe race, trip to Disney, spring training, his Celebrate Life party, taking his daughter to her first real movie, weekend away with his wife and more baseball. Sure, we all knew he had his bad days, his angry days, his feel sorry for himself days, but given all he was living through, they were surprisingly few. Every time I hear Tim McGraw's song. "Live Like You Were Dying", I think of him.
How many of us tell ourselves that when the kids get older, when business is better, when I retire, I'm going to do all the things I've really always wanted to do? What if that perfect time never comes? What if the day after you retire, you suffer a stroke like one of my friends? What if you're too old or too sick by the time "whenever" comes? What if tomorrow is the day you find out you have months to live? Will you look back on your life and say that you lived it to the fullest? Or will you find out you were just marking time? Are all the things that seem so important to fight over now really that vital, or would it have been better to compromise and move on?
More importantly, have you thought about your Bucket List, those things you want to make sure you do? Have you written it down? Have you thought about how to make it a reality? Well, why not? We only go around once in life, and I sure hope that when my life is done, I can look back and say it was a full life and I have no regrets. I think my friend's son-in-law did. RIP.
I am really fortunate to have fabulous parents. That's them in the picture. (My eighteen year old calls my father the "Lady Gaga of Grandparents." That, however, is a story for another day.) Not a day goes by here in the trenches that I don't use something that they've taught me. Here are my top ten:
1. Everything you have, you owe to your community. Giving begets giving, and you need to give back in proportion to what you have.
2. Treat everyone with respect, no exceptions.
3. You were given two ears and only one mouth for a reason (OK, I'm not really good with this one, but then again, neither is Dad. Mom, however, is an entirely different story).
4. Everyone will reap what they sow - eventually.
5. Plotting to get even is just a waste of time - see number 4, above.
6. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
7. Never, ever give up (Dad is a huge Churchill fan).
8. If you have it, use it. If you don't use it, then it isn't that important.
9. Family is not a function of birth; it is a state of mind. You really can choose your family.
10. Always have a career so you're never dependent on someone else to support you.
Saturday, our Bar Association and our profession lost a great member when Judge James S. McAuliffe, Jr. died. I only had one case in front of him during his tenure, and actually, he was sitting as a retired judge. It was a doozy of a case, a case that involved the modification of custody. It stretched from 3 days into 4, and into the evening at that. I remember a lot of the facts of that case, in a vague sort of way. What I remember with breathtaking clarity is Judge McAuliffe. He ran his courtroom like clockwork, and didn't allow the case to become sidetracked, but he did it with respect and kindness. He treated everyone in that courtroom, from the courtroom clerk down to the lowly attorney for the child (me), the way he would have wanted to be treated were he on the other side of the bench. He listened patiently to all the evidence, demonstrated he was listening not only by his demeanor but also by his periodic clarifying questions. At the end, he delivered a well reasoned opinion, consistent with the evidence. He acknowledged to the parents what a difficult decision it was for him to make, how important a decision it was, and how wrenching for them it must have been. In that trial, he was everything a judge should be, and as fine a man as I have met. There's a reason we called him "Gentleman Jim." He will be missed - sorely.