Law, especially litigation, is a world determined by sides and “facts.” I have mentioned these issues before (here and here), but today I want to focus on something that has come up repeatedly in my life recently, both in my office and on my yoga mat.
Lawyers like to be right. It seems that anyone who likes to argue “will make a good lawyer” to their parents. I guess this is a time for a little self-disclosure – that is what people said about me. So, arguing and holding onto positions is in our blood. In law school, lawyers are taught to see all sides of a situation, but out in the real world, we have to take positions . . . and we have to stick to them. We have to stick to them even when we disagree with them.
In addition to the courtroom, lawyers take positions by writing. We write emails to other lawyers, motions to the court, closing arguments when we have run out of time, and even sometimes articles and books. In all these written communications, we must take a position. The good news is that your thoughts and ideas can be disseminated more widely, but the less than good news is that those thoughts are in ink . . . forever.
At a conference several years ago, I was speaking to a psychologist, and I had made a point of disagreeing with something he had written in my law school note. We were discussing that particular area of disagreement, and he said something that has stuck with me forever. He said, “That is the problem with writing; it is there forever.” In other words, he had begun to disagree with himself. This is a man who is well known throughout the world for his work, and people love him or love to hate him. And here he was saying that he has evolved and changed over the years. For the record, in discussion, we understood one another and agreed on most aspects discussed. I have the utmost respect for him . . . even when we do sometimes continue to disagree.
Constantly being expected to take a particular position and stick to it creates patterns, or samskaras, in the brain. We learn to do nothing but stick to our guns and tell people, “it’s my way or the highway.” It makes it easier, sometimes inevitable, that we become less compromising. It is not necessarily a choice, but over time, it just becomes the way we see the world.
And lawyers are not alone in this. One of my yoga teachers (actually one of my first teachers), on Sunday, asked us all to tune back into that essence of trying to always be “right.” She, too, had such an encounter during the week. She asked us to look at how it impacts our relationships with ourselves and each other. Timing could not have been better in my life. That was a theme of my week this week. Longtime readers will know that I just returned from New Zealand where I wrote a thesis on a new model for representing children. Now I represent children. Anyone else see a potential butting of the proverbial heads?
And this week it happened. The discussion about the proper model came to me front and centre (I take myself back to NZ when I can through spelling). Not surprisingly, someone disagreed with me. My model for representing children is definitely controversial, so this was not entirely unexpected.
And an amazing thing happened for me. I was okay with the disagreement. I was a bit upset. Of course I would like people to agree. But I stepped back, and I learned a lot from the conversation. I felt a little downtrodden – all that work on a thesis for naught? Really? But then I read a blog post that brought me back to my purpose by none other than my cousin writing about her 3-year-old son’s first imaginary friend. And then I went to the yoga class where this ebb and flow of relationships through being “right” was the theme du jour. I still think my model will work, but I do not see it as the only model.
There is no question that I like to be right, and I like when people agree with me. Not only am I a lawyer, but it is ingrained in us in society. But over time, through yoga, it has become easier for me to accept other points of view, to hold them, and to listen to them. Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not! There was some intensity in my discussion earlier in the week. But each encounter where we hold the entire story begins to create a new brain pattern, a new samskara, and we can begin to explore the world from all points of view.
Of course, it can also lead to caving on your position all the time, but that is a post for another day.
Where do you notice your “my way or the highway” approach to life? How do you respond when people disagree with a position you hold and believe is fundamental? Does it matter how much you care about your position?
© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.