Monday, January 12, 2015

What If We Died Tomorrow?

Sometimes, especially lately, I feel tired.  I have been "practicing" law for thirty-one years and each discrimination case is a potential fight, brawl, or multi-year quagmire.  Most people are unfamiliar with litigation, and may not really fathom the magnitude of  emotional consequence, caused by reliving events, lawyers attacking their stories, and opponents bent on defeating them.   Discrimination cases are tougher emotionally, with nasty smears of one's honesty, character, sanity and motives.

This last week, I hoped to hone "counseling" skills and hone alternative lawyer skills such as listening rather than haranguing or tricking opponents.  I was to attend a three day mediation seminar out of town, but after the first day, back in the hotel room, karma had other plans.  Within minutes of returning to the room in the evening, I became nauseous, weak, and finally overcome by a virulent case of stomach flu.  That night was one of my worst nights in recent memory.  I did not leave the bed and bathroom of the hotel room for 38 hours.  The weather was bitterly cold, with wind chills below zero and I was so weak that I doubted I had the strength to stand erect, let alone, dress and drive to an emergency room.  The nausea was so intense that television commercials repulsed me and I was forced to close my eyes so as not to regurgitate the bile that solely remained in my gastric system.  Finally, by midnight, my son arrived from Kansas City, most of the nausea subsided, and I slept for 13 hours.  It was another day before I felt strong enough to drive home.  I was so thankful he came.  I had been scared, panicky, and irrational, worrying that death was imminent, or, if it was not, perhaps hoping just a little that death, or his cousin, unconsciousness, would visit.  I felt worse than I ever remember (except for childbirth - but that has a happier by-product).

I lived.  I feel better, almost completely better.  Once the nausea subsided and only weakness sidelined me, I took a look at my life.  I am 62 years old.   My father died at age 59.  I have been a trial lawyer for most of my adult years. I know much about how to be a trial lawyer. I focus on employment discrimination cases. I want to know, has my life, my years in this chosen professional been worthwhile?

After 31 years, I have had clients who were never satisfied, no matter if their employer gave them the moon and all the corporate money.  What these clients sought, was something I could not attain for them, to go back in time and get a do-over- no discrimination, no money loss, no humiliation.  Money simply cannot right all wrongs and we have little to work with other than money.  And a lawsuit cannot mend pre-existing or childhood injustices, or build self-esteem where the building blocks are lacking.  Some people can never be satisfied, because they have never forgiven others or themselves for unrelated transgressions.

Other clients are satisfied, no matter what.  I try to understand these people, too.  Maybe they have such healthy self-esteem, the willingness to fight for what they felt was right is the most important part of their voyage.  They settle cases sometimes that I would like to try, but it is their decision. They move on and usually live well.

There are some clients who simply want their day in court, and are willing to accept the outcome. Those are some of the bravest clients, since juries get verdicts right most of the time, but not all of the time and there is no guarantee of justice in this world.  Those clients join me on the riverboat  of life and step up to the poker table.  The reward is often so glorious the risk is worthwhile, and not because of a big verdict (although that does not hurt) but because there is satisfaction in slaying the dragon.  However, the flip side . . . losing . . . SUCKS. There is benefit for me the lawyer, because I continue to learn.  But, for my clients, this is usually their one shot.  I feel that I fail them.

I know that there are oftentimes good people on all sides of cases.  Rarely in life, is good pitted against evil.  But bigotry still exists, as current events sadly show us.  I  believe that most of us operate with prejudice that we do not, and perhaps, cannot, acknowledge.  Take the IAT test, a test that looks for unconscious bias, and most people are biased towards others like them in gender and race.  Implicit Bias Test - Harvard We need to set goals destroy the last vestiges of bigotry or we will always have a wealth gap and societal disorder and dissent.

Sometimes, especially after reading about war or visiting war museums, I despair, "What does any of this matter.  Humans have no natural enemies, outside of each other, so we wage war and destruction to cull the herds.  We are greedy, so there is corruption in government and politics.  What is the purpose of this existence?"  I think about Rwanda, slavery, the horrendous acts on this earth in the name of colonization  such as conquering indigenous people and slaughtering them, and I feel hopeless. I know that there will always be people who abuse wealth and power.  The poor will be downtrodden.  The powerless  will be oppressed.  The weak will be abused.  So, why should we attempt to better the plight of others?   What is the point? We are all going to die anyway, some sooner than others.

I watched the movie "Selma" today, hoping the film would be inspirational, and it was.  I remind myself, spring will come, even long after I am gone.  More babies will be born, and they will grow up and re-inject hope, hope for humanity with them.  Maybe, we can make this place better for future humans by instilling in the ones on this planet that no one is a less human than the other.  We are all part of a group, we are all humans.  And as humans, we need to learn to love and accept each other, foibles and all.  That is our goal.  When others work to eliminate war, or poverty, or famine, their goal is the same simple one, to respect and cherish one another. Being an American, or any other nationality is an artificial classification.  Even being born into a religion is artificial, based on how ones parents were raised, or where in the world you were born.  We are not all men, or women, or Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus, or Buddhists, or Asians, or Americans, or Russians, or engineers, or Caucasians, or Africans, blah, blah, blah.  But we are all human and we all live on this planet.  Maybe, just maybe, being a human will be enough to feel connected to other humans, simply for being a fellow human. Maybe the act of simply being human will foster compassion and acceptance.

Isn't that the goal for which we all strive.  We want love, acceptance, and meaning in life.  We want others to love and acknowledge our humanness.  We want to nourish and enrich other humans, because, by nature, humans are compassionate and caring creatures.  It's just that on the way we get diverted.  Okay, I can give this little quest of mine another day, or two, 4,000.  I hope.

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