Pause When Agitated or Doubtful
It often seems that the “default setting” for working lawyers is “frenetic” – we are champions at multi-tasking. Wheeling and dealing gets our blood pumping and our adrenaline flowing and, while we may sometimes complain about the workload, many of us find it to be part of our identity.
And now the courts are closed.
In recovery, there is the notion that one of the best, most useful, things we can do in troubling times is — nothing. A very useful book puts it this way: “As we go through the day, we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action.”
It’s hard to stop the merry-go-round, especially when you’re on your favorite horse. But in these times of uncertainty, when worry and fear are near-constant companions, it’s a good idea to just — stop. Think. Take an extra breath. Very little right now needs to be done immediately. Now that the clamor of contemporary life has faded to a dull hum, be willing to pause.
You’ll know what needs to be done next, but you have to pause to listen to yourself first.
Another lawyer reflects:
In a time when news moves fast and circumstances change by the minute, it is important that we “chew our words.” I need to take a moment to see what it might sound like in retrospect before I speak. I try to remember to always leave room for how our words will be interpreted by people who are often in more stress than we are or than I am. I need to remember and understand that just because it feels a certain way right now, doesn’t mean that is the way it will always feel or be.
And another writes:
The program for me is a new way of living and the big tool is self-restraint. I can’t shoot first (then aim) and expect to have peace that comes from a well–lived life. The Twelve and Twelve tells me in Step 10 to avoid quick tempered criticism or power-driven argument. Being a lawyer doesn’t mean I have to jam-up the other side (opposing counsel, the judge, the bank—you fill in the blank) with dominating anger or bluster. Negative talk about my work colleagues is in the same category. Courtesy and civility usually gets me to a solution with less emotional turmoil. Stop or pause, when my first reaction is to send the inflammatory email or make the negative comment in a meeting or on a call. Don’t take the bait. I don’t do it perfectly but now wait before responding (Lincoln wrote letters when angry and never sent them because he knew when his anger calmed, he’d use a different approach). I say in the meeting “we’ll consider that” and bite my tongue when I want to make the negative comment. I heard early: “lose your temper, lose your case” and that is true. Fear caused by the pandemic makes this even more important now. I need to take a breath (easier said than done) and remember the prayer, “God, grant me the grace, to know the space, between impulse and action.”
Pause when agitated or doubtful or act aggressively and boldly and brilliantly. We are trained and conditioned to respond quickly and without breathing or considering the consequences of acting quickly. Can I admit to being doubtful and not believe I will be attacked for not appearing to be prepared. How do I follow the Code of Ethics in my treatment of my colleagues when I am agitated and want to confront and attack. First I need to acknowledge that I do get both agitated and doubtful. I then I can actually enjoy the time when I pause. I had an experience many years ago where I was representing a man charged with murder and at sentencing I expected the victim’s mother to verbally attack my client and my client to also respond aggressively. The mother’s written victim impact statement was full of anger. My client had spent most of his life in prison. I was more than just doubtful of what might occur. I took a few deep breathes and looked at the painting above the bench of a Judge who practiced pausing when agitated. My client then spoke [he had not told me what he would say] and said that he was truly sorry for the pain he had caused. There are times I now sit quietly in the court room waiting [mostly patiently] and one of the attorneys will ask if I am okay that I seem so calm.
These days it is even more important for me to pause and breathe and reflect.