The Mindfulness Blog

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People Are Strange, When You're A Stranger

As I stood, hip-deep in a snowdrift retrieving my dog's poop, I heard a man start yelling and looked up to see that I had let go of the leash while wading into the drift, and my dog had apparently engaged (without incident) the dog being walked by the other man. The flood of invectives that followed was surprisingly foul, and totally unexpected.

Which caused me to wonder: Was the other guy having a bad day (though it wasn't even 7:00 am, yet) or was he just a jerk? Whatever the case, I couldn't help but feel that he wouldn't have gone off on me the way he did, if he knew me. Or was at least acquainted with me.

And that got me thinking about the way people tend to react toward strangers, and even sometimes toward ourselves-- to whom we are, in a very real sense-- often, strangers. Which led me to think (with gratitude) about mindfulness and my meditation practice. Two things that help me to better know myself, and better manage my thoughts and emotions-- particularly when it comes to strangers!

In the legal profession, management of personal thoughts and emotions is particularly important, because-- due to the adversarial nature of so many of our daily interactions-- most opposing counsel are (figuratively, if not literally) strangers. The legal world can be relatively small, even in large cities-- what goes around, usually comes around. And yet, we are fundamentally strangers, at least in the legal positions we are required adopt and defend.

The Oxford English Dictionary ("OED") has several different definitions of the word, "strange" but one definition is particularly relevant to this post: "Absence of friendly feeling or relations; discouraging or uncomplying attitude toward others; coldness, aloofness". Sound like opposing counsel, or a cranky client? Maybe a difficult and distracted partner or work peer? A challenging and overworked judge, arbitrator or mediator?

Don't get me wrong-- I am definitely not down on the legal profession. Quite to the contrary, I believe the profession is critically important, and I look back on my 40-year career with tremendous fondness-- even though it was often a bit "strange" in the sense suggested above.

Lawyers are strange, when they are strangers-- both to others, and to themselves. Are there any tools that can help them become more familiar? More civil? More professional?

I suggest two such tools: Mindfulness and meditation.


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