Why do judges need mindfulness and meditation?

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response
-- Viktor Frankl
Deciding the outcome of a hotly contested dispute, in which all litigants have legitimate concerns and well-articulated arguments can be incredibly difficult. And incredibly stressful. Sure, that stress comes with the job and is something that one can anticipate, but that doesn't make it any easier, or less stressful.

Acquiring skills that can help mitigate those stressors is something that all men and women who wear the robe should wish for, and work toward—particularly skills that allow one to recognize facts without attaching a particular weight or significance to them, and are not biased toward a specific outcome. That's where mindfulness and meditation (call it contemplation, or deliberative quiet time) can be of assistance.

The wisdom that lawyers and litigants seek from judges requires both intellect and intuition. It requires adherence to stare decisis, tempered by a sensitivity and awareness of facts that are unique to each dispute. Some judges are blessed with a natural sense of “Solomon's Wisdom” but for many, that kind of wisdom is hard-earned. Mindfulness and meditation can help both the “naturals” and the “hard-working” judges by enabling them to better balance their intellect with their intuition, and by helping them become more comfortable with the decision-making process.

You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn

How can one be a judge, without judging the merits of the arguments advanced, or the litigants who appear before them? And isn't non-judgment, or non-attachment, a big part of what mindfulness and meditation can teach or encourage? Yes, but encouraging non-judgment is not the same thing as encouraging indecision. Being decisive is what we ask our judges to be—it's a quality that is central to our system of justice—tempered and informed decisiveness, to be sure, but decisiveness, nonetheless. And being decisive can often times be stressful—which is where mindfulness and meditation can be a big help.

It's part of the professional cycle that all of us—particularly judges—must learn to accept, and deal with.


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