Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When the Truth gets Lost

I am currently at a conference unlike any I have ever attended. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions before, I love conferences. Not only are they a plethora of information, but they are a way to meet the experts, network, and see what people around the world are doing in the work I do. I also love interdisciplinary conferences to learn about other fields. But they also can provide so much information and bring up issues we have in our practice that we did not even know existed. This conference took that issue to a completely new level for me. 

Lawyers are expected to find the “right” answer, the “truth.” I have struggled with these issues on this blog before, but this conference is throwing them in my face like never before. The conference is called the “San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment.” The participants include lawyers, law enforcement, doctors, forensic interviewers, social workers, etc. My first day consisted of presentations on differentiating birth trauma from abuse, the importance of acknowledging bruises, and learning about methamphetamine’s effects on the brain. I never thought learning about meth would be the easy part of my day.

This morning started with suggestibility and recantation during forensic interviews about sexual abuse. Good morning to you, too! What are we expected to do with this information when there is no physical evidence? How are we supposed to make sense of it? How do we hear everyone's story and find "the truth?"

The lawyer in me wants to know “the truth.” The yogi in me knows we all see the world through our own truths. The lawyer in me knows that child sexual abuse happens, and it must be taken seriously. So, what do we do in this situation? How do we hold the entire story and follow the law?

For the past decade, my yoga path has encouraged me to see and hold the entire picture and to understand people from their points of views. At the plenary session today, the speaker said she has discovered over her career that when we truly listen, we find there are truthS, not one single truth. That can be very liberating, but it can also be paralyzing to the person listening.

What do we do with that? What does the law do with that?

I try to always have some sort of answer in these posts, some lesson I have learned from yoga or law that concludes. Today, I simply do not have that. I refuse to let go of the years of yoga that have opened my eyes to trusting people, humanizing people, and seeing the entire picture from everyone’s point of view. I cannot do this perfectly; I doubt anyone can, but the yoga makes it easier each and every day.

But we (the system) have to make decisions. We have to determine what is in the best interests of children. And this is not just true of child welfare lawyers. All lawyers, and anyone who sees trauma, disaster, etc. on a daily basis, must find a way to hear it, make some sense of it, and find a way to move forward.

At the beginning of law school, we were told that there may never be an answer in certain law school scenarios. We were asked to “embrace the ambiguity.” When discussing abstract situations involving constitutional law principles, I not only can accept that, I enjoy it. But when we are talking about real life and real decisions, especially those that involve families and children, that ambiguity becomes painful.

But the good news is that people are talking about these issues. People are trying to find some answers, even if we cannot always have the “right” answers. That gives me hope. And the yoga, most days, keeps me grounded. Right now, that is where I am. I look around this conference and see people who have been doing this work for years, and I wonder whether they think they know the answer every time. My guess is not, or they would not be here. That also gives me hope. Knowing we do not have all the answers is the first step. We just keep moving along and hope each day we are doing our best. 

How do you notice these ambiguities in your life? What do you do to respond to them? Do you ever feel like you can know the truth?


© Rebecca Stahl, 2012. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Thank you for your post - my journey to yoga has been slow and gradual and along the way I was a mental health worker and a youth worker - I enjoyed conferences and training workshops too but found that in New Zealand and Australia they easily slipped into complaint sessions - about what "they" could be doing to make our work easier, more hopeful, more effective - we needed more money, better communication, more compassionate bosses, less unpaid overtime. Now I only do voluntary work and work from home with our two school-age daughters - we do yoga as a family but have found out that the guru of the organisation we were with is a sexual predator who for years has been taking advantage of his situation. That powerful people do this so often is disappointing but not surprising but that a yogi also chooses this path is both disappointing and surprising.

    We will find new classes that are family friendly possibly with the same disappointed and surprised teachers we had. Yoga will keep giving us what it has. Thanks to the friend who drew my attention to your blog and to you for writing with such insight and passion.


  2. Hi Tony. I totally agree that conferences can too easily become complaint sessions, but they are also inspirational at times. I was at the NZ Family Law Conference this year, and it was quite inspirational, especially for me as an outsider to the system there. And of course there are many yoga teachers (and other spiritual leaders) who use their power in hypocritical ways. It is unfortunate, but we can learn from that as well -- power can corrupt anyone's actions. Thanks so much for the insights!