Sunday, February 23, 2014

Darkness on the Edge of Town

I'm about to start a trial. As those folks who are friends of mine on Facebook know, I often play music by The Clash when I'm about to start, or am in, a trial.

There is a place you have to go when there is as much on the line as there is in a serious felony criminal trial. It can be a dark and lonely place. No matter the support from family, friends, or anyone else, you're out there on the ledge by yourself. A lot of times even your client is adversarial. No one in that courtroom wants you to win. So you adjust your mindset. For me, it entails channeling anger and arrogance--convincing myself that I am the best at what I do, that the prosecution is foolish to try and match me. Some trial lawyers I know have an almost Zen approach. They are able to achieve calm amidst the storm. That doesn't work for me.

But there's a price that comes with that mindset, especially for those close to me. I'm by nature arrogant and self-assured--have been since I was a kid. I'm not good at being warm and understanding. That's hard enough for the people who care about me during the lulls. When I'm in trial, those characteristics take over almost entirely, and I am no fun to be around. At some level, I know that. But I am powerless to stop it. No, that's bullshit. Of course I could stop it. I choose not to, and simply hope that those I love will understand. It's a lot to ask. And there's an internal toll to be paid too. You go into the dark too often, sometimes it's hard to come back. As I get older, it gets tougher to recover. It's why I've taken to working out harder in the last year or two than I have since my early twenties. There's a saying among those of us who do murder and mayhem cases that every lawyer has a number stamped in their brain. That number is the number of trials you have in you. No one knows in advance what that number is. But when you reach that number, it's time to get out. The trick is recognizing when that number hits.

But enough of the "woe is me". As I've said before, I do this because, at heart, I love it. I chose it, and I wouldn't do anything else. Time to strap on the guns and see what happens. As the Boss says:

"Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop
I'll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

First, the title (for you non-baseball fans). The expansion 1962 New York Mets were perhaps the worst baseball team of all time. They were managed by baseball legend Casey Stengel. Stengel, upon witnessing his team's sheer ineptitude, was said to have exclaimed "Can't anybody here play this game?". As it turns out, Casey never said it. When Jimmy Breslin was writing about the team, he made up the "quote" and attributed it to the manager. But the cry of "Can't anybody here play this game?" still sounds when witnessing a team playing poorly.

I chose this title because this post is about how badly people argue. Now, big surprise to those who know me, I LOVE to argue. Hell, I like it so much I do it for a living. But the basics of arguing (or debate, if there's too much hostile connotation to the word "argue" for you--more on that in a minute) are not that complicated: take a position, support it with evidence, listen to the counter-argument, respond. Lather, rinse, repeat. The problem is that the vast majority of people skip the middle parts: they lack evidence and they don't listen to the counter. When you note someone's lack of evidence, you often get the response "well, I'm entitled to my opinion". Yes indeed, you are. But if it lacks evidence or is poorly thought-out, others are entitled (I would contend required) to point out that such opinion is without merit. That is where listening to the response, considering it ("have I failed to support my position with evidence", "is my evidence from an authoritative and reliable source") and responding comes in. Simply expressing your opinion again, without dealing with the points raised by the other side, dissolves quickly and casts no light.

How do you know what you think and what you believe? Is it what you were taught as a child? Is it what you were taught in school? Whatever it is, if you don't test it, think ABOUT what you think and WHY you think it, I would suggest that you are not your own person. Public debate and discourse has devolved, for the  most part, into people shouting what I refer to as "articles of faith" at each other. These are positions that people hold, but when pressed for evidence as to why those positions are correct, i.e. when pushed to argue/debate those positions, are incapable of doing so. If you never change your opinion on something, if you are incapable of conceding that those whose position is different than yours sometimes have a point, if you are sure you have the answers, I would suggest you 're doing it wrong. This is not simply a matter of education. There are people out there who went to very fine schools who are absolutely terrible at this process. It is more a mindset of not being satisfied and being open to the process. I'm not always able to accomplish it. But I try.