Lawyers, like all human beings, are wired for connection. The problem, however, is that (like all other human beings) connection is experienced only in direct proportion to vulnerability. And I can’t imagine a more radical concept for a lawyer then the notion that he or she should live and work from a place of vulnerability.
We are wired for control…the quintessential “never let them see you sweat” culture. Concepts like vulnerability freak us out. We spend great chunks of our workday (and huge chunks of our life) trying to control and predict outcomes. When you spend enough time operating in that universe, it’s almost impossible to entertain the idea that vulnerability might be the secret to life. Yet, there is no surer path to self destruction and emotional unraveling, than to have as your motto “never let them see you sweat.”
For most of us, it’s as though in order to function as lawyers we have to wear a certain kind of suit. When we wear this suit we present as confident, strong, articulate, and fearless in the face of whatever is facing us. Capable of doing what needs to be done and delivering a clear and predicted outcome.
We wear this suit when we go to court. When we walk into a client meeting. When we attend a deposition, or sit down with colleagues. What’s particularly problematic is that this suit’s made of plastic. After awhile (and this doesn’t take long) the heat of the adversarial process and the zero sum game of litigation begin to melt the plastic suit. Finally, it is fused to our bodies, and we can’t take it off. At that point we begin to totally and completely identify with our role and adaptation. We become the suit.
So, what do we do? Never put the suit on in the first place? Not a viable option when you are paid to be an advocate. There is a real part of our work that requires we apply reason and dispassion to the problems vexing our clients. There is a real part of our work that requires zeal in how we advocate. And there is a lot to be said about the crucible of argument as a way resolving insoluble problems.
Maybe one thing we can do is begin to recognize that the role we play as a lawyer, litigator or advocate is only a role. The persona we don when we walk into that courtroom or client meeting, is only a role. It is only an adaptation. And when things get so hot that the suit starts to melt, we take it off. To live life as if you’re always in control is absolutely insane.
The notion that vulnerability means weakness or gullibility is an insidious fiction, perpetuated by those who don’t have the guts to be real. True courage is showing up for our lives, believing that what makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful.
In June of 2010, Berne Brown delivered a Ted lecture, where she explored this idea. That lecture is the very definition of a video gone viral. Last time I checked, it had been viewed almost 10,000,000 times.
Do yourself a favor. Take 20 minutes today and watch her lecture. In spending some time with this idea, maybe we can begin to imagine a world where we can live authentic, whole-hearted lives…a profession healed from the wounds of isolation–and in that imagining, rediscover a world of real connection.