Monday, May 31, 2010

What is Courage?

Today is Memorial Day which is the day legally set aside for people in this country to remember those who fought and died for this country.  What makes it important that we remember those who died before us, the noble, and sometimes the not so noble?  What makes someone a "hero?"  How does one live with courage so that he or she can be remembered as a noble "soldier?"

For me, what epitomizes courage is the protagonist in the classic "Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane.  It is a classic about the Civil War which covers only two days of the war.  On the first day, the protagonist in the book was scared and ran.  He acted like a normal scared person confronted by overwhelming personal danger.  But the book does not stop with day one.  On day two, he comes back, facing the danger from which he fled and he stands and fights.  When I read the book, way into my adulthood, I loved it.  That is real courage, fighting the natural urge for self-protection to do what one feels is right. No need for perfection.  We can redeem our souls.  I love redemption.

It is obvious courage to give up one's life for what one believes.  I wish I could understand why our nation keeps asking our young people to sacrifice their lives.  Many times, I would rather we kept our brave men and women at home and not ask for the ultimate sacrifice for what I suspect to be purely economic reasons such as protecting our dependence on foreign oil.  I think, as the ones who are not at risk of dying in these sometimes silly wars, we should not be asking our young ones, our sons and daughters, our youngsters, to die to keep us rich.  But our children and youths continue to make the ultimate sacrifice, usually with great honor and dignity.

I think for most of us, those too old or not confronted with the choice to go to battle, their can still be great courage.  It is the kind of courage we want from our leaders, yet see it all to rarely.  This kind of courage is not the kind of courage that makes for a typical politician.  This courage is the kind that few among us demonstrate.  It is the courage to do that which is unpopular, that which may open one to ridicule, or worse.  It takes courage to buck the masses, to risk everyday ridicule.  For a politician it takes courage to follow ones own convictions regardless of opinion polls.   For the everyday person, it takes courage to not join in and ridicule of the unpopular, to risk public ridicule, to risk loneliness.  That is the way that most of us can be courageous.

To act with courage is hard.  If it is easy to fight, it takes no courage to do so. Courage is when one fights for ideals when it is easier not to fight.   Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, all displayed real courage.  Everyday people display courage when they risk being shunned or ridiculed and stand up for what they believe.  To be courageous one has to first be able to stand up for oneself.  Just as someone who lacks self-love cannot love others, one who lacks the courage to protect oneself, cannot protect others.

I am proud to represent everyday people who show courage by bucking the system, by standing against injustice, even though it is hard and even though it is unpopular.  That is why I started this blog, to honor those everyday people who fight, in their own way, everyday for what is right.  That is uncommon courage.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

People Who Have the Courage to Buck the System

I feel honored to represent people who buck the system, whistleblowers, victims of illegal retaliation, etc.  It takes a lot of courage to buck the system.  We are social animals.  People act differently in groups than they act when alone.  We all want to fit in.  But, sometimes we can't, or decide that we won't.  Whistleblowers can appear to  be misfits, because it is hard for people who really want to fit in to buck the power, the social or employment situation in which he or she finds him or herself.

In my experience in representing the people who have the courage to buck the system, my clients have to endure more than rejection from their former group.  It seems that it is human nature to vilify the person who has the courage to differ.  My clients suffer from the humiliation of lies and rumors spread about them.  For instance, I have represented women in sexual harassment cases where the employer claims they engaged in sex at work, that they "asked for it," that they were the real harassers.  In my own life, I have been part of an organization where those in power wrongfully accused my friends of trying to wrest power and overtake the organization to justify their treatment of those who differed with the ones in power.  These situations were lies, but the people perpetrating the lies wanted them to be true, to justify their actions.  Lies get spread this way.

Group dynamics are illustrate strange phenomena in human behavior.  Being the descendant of Jewish German refugees from Nazi Germany, I have always been interested in group dynamics.  How can a leader, an employer, the cool kids in high school, get others to engage in behavior as a group that would appall them if they had rationally engaged in such  behavior individually?  We so want to belong, that humans are capable of doing horrible things if the group sanctions them.  That is what happened in Nazi Germany, in Rwanda, in the Spanish Inquisition.  I wonder what I would have done if I were in the majority in one of these situations.  I hope that I would have the courage to fight the status quo.  Most people do not.  If we had not had people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, where would we be as a society?

Here's to those who have the courage to do what is unpopular, to buck the leaders, to speak the truth.  We need people with such courage.  I am proud that I have the honor to represent some of the people who show this great courage.   I hope that, if tested, I could count myself as one among them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grace and Courage - Part I- 10 Special People

I have had a writers block these past few weeks, deciding who and what I would like to write about.  The purpose of my starting this blog was to recognize the courage and fortitude of my clients, both past and present.  I am reticent to name names, though, because of attorney-client privileges.  However, I want to honor some of the people who have influenced me by their acts of grace, courage and kindness, not just clients.  Some are just people whose paths have crossed mine in my life, others are clients.  I am just going to list ten of those people that come to my mind tonight.  This is not an all-encompassing list and I hope to have many more in the future.  Here is tonight's top 10,  in no particular order.

1.  Anni Halle - my grandmother who has been dead since 1985.  She had the fortitude to mobilize her family, my mother, grandfather and great-grandmother to flee Nazi Germany in 1938, days before Cristallnacht.  If it weren't for her courage, I would never have existed.  And, after she worked as a maid and then in a factory for most of her life, she went to school at the age of 63 to become a nurse.  I wish I had told her that she was my hero before she died.  I hope she knew.

2.  Judge Frances Tydinngco-Gatewood - the presiding federal judge on the territory of Guam and my law school classmate and moot court partner, and friend.  Frances is one of the kindest, most caring, most loving people I have ever met.  I may not see her for 20 years, but when I see her again, her warmth and kindness still washes over me.  I see photos of her and can't help but smile.  Elevation to the federal bench has not changed her one whit.  She is kind, caring and wonderful Frances.

3.  My clients dealing with brain and uterine cancer.  A tough pill for a devoted and loving married couple.  I watch their love and devotion for each other and know that even with their dreadful diseases they are truly blessed by having each other.  It has been such an honor representing them.

4.  My brother - Bob Jaben.  He is filled with good humor, and brotherly devilishness to his older sister.  No matter what issue may arise, he is steady and strong.

5.  My wonderful client whose sexual harassment case I tried years ago.  She was abused and harassed by co-workers, and fought a very powerful union.  The jury gave her $650,000, which the court of appeals took away.  Through this experience, she and her husband have established a church and they are pastors.  She is kind, gentle, and good-humored.  She brings out the best in people.

6.  Commissioner Molly Merrigan - I really don't know Commissioner Merrigan well.  I was appointed to a very difficult juvenile case with heart-wrenching issues.  The case caused me several sleepless nights.  I don't feel comfortable talking about the specifics of the case.  However, in a case that I thought could ruin many people's lives, Commissioner Merrigan in her kind, soft-spoken way came up with a creative solution that will probably save those kids.

7.  My client involved in a horrendous accident resulting in catastrophic injuries.  He was very young.  He shows me how to live as normal of a life as possible with dignity.  He is a kind and loving man, who can still live his life without anger and bitterness.

8.  Barack Obama - I just think he is really, really cool. Enough said.

9.  My client who is a nurse.  As a result of the events of her case, the life she knew was destroyed, both personally and professionally.  She is a leader and believes in principles.  She is one of the most honorable people I have ever met.  Even with all of the hardships, she bounces back and takes care of others, as good nurses do.

10.  My husband.  He is kind and loving. He acts with dignity during difficult times.  He treats most everyone with respect. He is a good man.

That felt good.  There are many, many more people whom I respect.  I hope to write more articles about those people who have positively impacted me.  Watch for them in the future.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How To Fix the Kansas City Royals - and its application to employment issues

For many years now, the Kansas City Royals have been terrible.  My husband is a loyal fan of the Royals, and so I am drawn in to this annual drama.  This year, after reading, "The Power of Nice" and "How to Win Friends and Influence People," I believe I have the solution for making the Royals a great team again - fire the owner.

The Royals are owned by David Glass, the former CEO of Wal-Mart.  And, quite frankly, Glass runs this operation as if it were Wal-Mart, where employees are sometimes considered commodities, acquired at "Roll-Back" prices.  Baseball teams need to be run as if they were small, family-owned businesses with owners who care about employees and customers alike.

The Royals were great when Ewing Kauffman was alive and owned them.  Kauffman loved his baseball team and it showed.  Would he have ever traded George Brett, even if it were financially advantageous?  Of course not.  Ewing Kauffman treated the Royals and Kansas City as if we were all part of his family.  No Wal-Mart mentality there.

So, once we fire David Glass, who should we hire as owner?  Why Warren Buffett, of course.  Warren Buffett does not believe in firing employees, according to the author of "The Power of Nice."  He knows how to treat people.  He must be kind, since he donated at least a billion dollars to the Gates Foundation.  He lives in Omaha, where the Royals have a farm team.  He's rich enough, and I think we Kansas Citians could love him as a father as we did Ewing Kauffman.

So, if there is anyone reading this blog who knows Warren Buffett, please ask him to make an offer to David Glass which Glass could not refuse.  Oh, and make sure Mr. Buffett agrees to keep the Royals in Kansas City.

Thank you very much.