Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Satya is the second yama or ethical precept, the first of the 8 limbs of yoga. Satya means truthfulness. I have been a bit worried to write about truthfulness on the blog about lawyers. Isn't this where all lawyer jokes begin? But that is the point of this blog, to move beyond these preconceived notions. Truthfulness has a lot of levels; it means a lot more than not lying. When I was a YMCA camper and counselor, I was guided by the Four core values: 1) Respect, 2) Caring, 3) Honesty, and 4) Responsibility. In a sense, they were the precursor to the yoga principles by which I try to live my life today. There were always jokes about them back when I was a kid. We would be goofing around, poking fun at one another, and someone would say, "that's not very respectful." The obvious retort was, "yes, but it's honest!" Satya, for this very reason, is broader than always being truthful.

According to my Yoga Teacher Training Manual, the ancient texts say, 

Speak that which is true.
Speak that which is pleasant.
Do not speak that which is true and unpleasant.
Do not speak that which is pleasant and untrue. 

A different way to say this is that being unpleasant, seeing that which is negative, by definition means you are failing to see the truth. As usual, there is a thin line between truth and tact, but is that always the case? Must we fail to see the forest for the trees? If we take a step back, we can be both, and we can live from this truthfulness in a meaningful and respectful way.

Of all the yamas, satya may be the one that touches me the deepest. I have struggled with being truthful in my life, and if asked now, I would probably say that I struggle with being tactful when the truth needs to be stated. I have found that this tension comes up over and over again in the law and life, and how we handle it sets the foundation for our relationships. 

I think the most potent example of satya in the law exists in how lawyers interact when the other side makes a less-than-plausible argument. Without going into specifics, it is safe to say that lawyers generally do not choose their clients, and short of frivolous arguments, lawyers must make arguments to the court if their clients want them to do it. What has always fascinated me is that in many types of law, lawyers will represent both sides at various times. In Family Law, for example, a lawyer could be hired by the mother in one case who wants to move to another state with her child, and the father in the next case trying to stop his ex-wife from moving (not the same parties, obviously, but the same situation). The lawyer will be asked, therefore, to represent both sides of a legal argument, just with different facts. In these situations, lawyers living and working from a place of satya would be able to recognize that when the other side makes an argument, it is just that, an argument. And the legal system at its best is just searching for the truth. Lawyers failing to work from a place of satya will see the other side's argument and call it ridiculous, or worse. But we all know that both sides are just doing their job, right?

I have never seen a better example of needing to step back, and consider another perspective. Satya teaches us to both see that perspective, honor it, and if we disagree, to do so pleasantly. In politics, politicians are derided for so-called flip-flopping. While I will never condone changing a viewpoint for political gain, I am genuinely inspired by politicians who put their reputations on the line by saying, "I was wrong" when they recognize that their old views were not in line with their current views, usually after learning more facts. It happens rarely, but when it does, it is an opportunity to recognize that they have allowed truth to win over politics. I wish we lived in a world that could honor this sort of reflection and not turn it into a punchline.

In my own life, the punchline of satya from my childhood has informed my current struggle with the tension. A friend, who is a lawyer, and who has only gone to yoga once in her life recently said that both yoga and lawyers "are trying to find some ultimate truth." For someone who has struggled with truth for so many years, I am glad to have both of these systems guiding my future. 

Blessings and Namaste!

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

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