Practicing the Pause

"That's a lie! She is lying!"

Opposing counsel - let’s call him ‘Dick’- stomped his feet and threw his hands in the air. I stood before the judge, stunned that Dick was attacking me this way.

I paused. Dick, the guy purporting to be a professional, finished his rant. When the judge made eye contact with me I declared that I was simply reciting from the record and opposing counsel was mistaken.

The morning resumed a normal cadence. A few days later, I received a half-hearted voicemail apology from Dick.

I’d like to say that I paused on purpose that day and the result was my restrained reaction. But I really think I just froze, like a deer in the headlights. Responding without a profanity-laced counter attack was a survival reflex. I’ve been practicing the twelve steps of recovery for many years, far longer than I’ve had the privilege of practicing law. Most of the time, I enjoy peace of mind that is beyond my wildest imaginings. ‘The Pause’ as it’s fondly referred to in the meetings I attend, works wonders toward that peace. It prevents unkind words from flying like shattering glass and doing damage. Practicing The Pause can open the mind and shift perspective or invite inspiration.

In the situation I detailed above, my survival-reflex pause was a mere shadow of The Pause. I had no sense of calm. It took me several days to fully recover any peace of mind. Back then, Dick was someone I was in court with regularly. I fantasized confrontations with him where I’d tear him a new one. But in reality, I continued to be polite to Dick. He was polite in return. Eventually, the matter was forgotten. Recently, I attended a CLE on civility in the profession. Memories of that day in court with Dick returned along with surprisingly intense feelings. Maybe someday I’ll be secure and serene enough to handle incivility with The Pause. In the meantime, as I muddle through my professional life, I remain grateful for every civil interaction I have.

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