eyes open

eyes open
"know thyself" is the cure, the answer, the process, the goal, the result


If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Let's just agree that the case has already been made respecting the chronic and near-ubiquitous dissatisfaction among lawyers for their work. Let us also agree to agree that the pandemic of drug- and alcohol-abuse among lawyers (per social scientists at "x" percent above the national average) is not just a coincidence. What then are we to make of this and, further--aside from hand-wringing--what to do about it?

Let us also agree not to lie to each other, shall we? Let's agree not to tell each other that "it won't happen to me" for mere wanting. Let's agree not to believe that this only happens to attorneys of a certain generation and that "we" "new" "younger" attorneys won't suffer the same fate merely by virtue of our youth and more "modern" outlook. Do you (those under-30 types) seriously believe that your forebears did not start out with the same vitality and optimism?

Start Unpeeling the Onion

I suggest we actually begin to unpeel the onion of this occupational hazard and undeniably destructive drain on our profession as a whole, with all the detrimental affects this can conceivably have and has arguably already had on our society (footnote 1: just how many corporations claim (and truthfully) that their counsel signed off on their misdeeds before doing them?).

As I am not a scientist, not a sociologist and not a psychologist, I'll dispense with the niceties and proofs and just give you my theory straight out: our profession suffers from dis-ease because it emphasizes rational thought processes to the exclusion of emotion, of creativity, and, perhaps most importantly, of the "sub-conscious."

Hearkening Back to Jung

Those who have read Jung's last great work (and the only one accessible to the layman) "Man and His Symbols," may see his influence here. Let me paraphrase and "translate."

The unconscious (subconscious, whatever) is a vital and important aspect of human existence and sanity. It is not a relic of "primitive" man; it is not a sissy-haven and scapegoat for bad behavior. Rather, it is a font of creativity--perhaps THE font of creativity--of the human psyche. It is a vital part of (link to) our interaction to our own histories (memories) and that of the world at large. And, unfortunately, it is neglected, suppressed, and without a voice.

But for our dreams.

Dreams Matter

Jung's theory is that our dreams are vitally important to our mental, and even physical, health. Our dreams are the only way for "civilized" man to interact with (listen to, learn from) an entire thought process, almost another entire "being" within us--and one that we cannot live without. Primitive man (per Jung) had not lost the interaction between the strange, wonderful and grotesque projections that the unconscious mind projects onto every interaction, thought, and sight. Primitive man sees a shaman in a wolf, an angry god in a storm, a ghost in a rustle of the wind. Importantly, however, these fantastical associations have important meaning to us as human beings. Most importantly, they come from the same source (arguably) that all our creative, generative and new thoughts and ideas come from. We ignore it to our peril.

Yet, that is precisely what "modern" man (yes, woman, too) has done. We have collectively decided to--and "consciously" I might add, relegate the unconscious to "persona non-grata" status. As stated, what remain accessible to us, are our dreams.

The Source of Our Collective Discontent

I have not worked out just how we as modern professionals are to integrate the important messages that our unconscious gives to us, but I do know that we can and must do more to do so. We as attorneys particularly are in need of this integration. We work in a society-within-a-society that even more strongly and exclusively values "reason" and "rationalism" over emotion, sentiment, and the fantastical than the layman. I suggest, then, that our malaise, our depression, our destructive and compulsive behaviors, stem from a mind that is diseased because it is not nourished by the creative and generative powers of the unconscious.

Two Examples

I'm afraid this post is already far too long and I do not have the wherewithal to flesh out an entire system of analysis and integration. However, we fail to pick up this challenge to our peril.

Two quick examples. First, Jung relates the story of an otherwise high-functioning professional who had a recurring dream of walking off of a cliff. Jung, given the man's background, was gravely concerned. The individual had been engaged in a string of rather sordid financial and other engagements, and had begun to adopt a series of high-risk physical projects (involving mountain climbing) that Jung thought was some sort of unconscious intent to restore an equilibrium to that individual. Despite repeated warnings to re-evaluate his new-found passion, the individual continued to take ever-more dangerous mountain treks. Two weeks after the dream, his mountaineering friends related a telling and horrifying event--the man (otherwise apparently happy, fulfilled and successful) simply walked off the cliff--just as in his dream. Let me emphasis, he did not fall, he walked off. Trouble is, this unconscious obedience to a long-ignored call took another colleague with him to his demise.

Second story: I recall a vivid dream just before my wills and trusts final in law school. It was an intricate and peculiarly sharp, concrete and vivid dream; one that I could not understand, but knew was important. However, I had better things to do. I sat for the exam (and nearly failed it). I recalled only later that night the details of the dream--and realized that I had dreamed every detail of the exam fact scenario, and every single answer. Had I perhaps been more disposed to listen to, value and care about my dreams--indeed a full third of my human existence if you will--perhaps I might have averted a small (but painful nonetheless) perceived failure in my life.

I can't promise you can avoid all professional set-backs by paying undue attention to your dreams--but then again, you might.

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It's OK to be Serious: The "Gay 90's" are Over

Interesting. I picked up a "fluff" magazine at the newsstand yesterday, just for kicks. (Time, September 3d issue). I hadn't read anything so gauche as a popular magazine for, I don't know, about a year, and so I was surprised to find out how the popular zeitgeist had shifted (um, I don't see much TV either). At any rate, I found a surprising theme running through the articles: a somber, serious mood, diffuse with a stolid determination.

The Terrible Secret
The lead article purported to reveal the "secret" life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta (remember her?). The upshot was that despite her public and frequent exhortations to live a spiritual life full of the joy and fulfillment that comes from service to others, Mother Teresa suffered from a half-century of nearly unbroken spiritual emptiness, doubt, emotional dryness, and longing. Tellingly, this cognitive dissonance between her message and ubiquitous smile and her inner torture was something she was fully aware of--she wanted her personal correspondence to be destroyed lest her possible hypocrisy (she used the word) damage her mission.

In Praise of Angst
At any rate, what interested the article's author was not so much the inner-turmoil of an Armenian nun, as the determination and consistency of this remarkable figure. What interested me is the unabashed, yet reserved, praise that the author had for this unwavering commitment to her work in the face of what was apparently for her a source of constant and intense pain. Since when does the popular press praise a lifestyle that causes and sustains personal pain as something healthy, valuable, laudable?

The Few, The Proud, the Dour
Next, the editor threw in a piece about the 2008 Presidential hopefuls. Again, they each appear to be competing for the prize of "the guy or gal best looking in a dour blue suit." Giuliani's claim on the big chair appears to be his Mother Teresa-like "smile in the face of adversity". Clinton's appeal, if charismatic, is definitely as un-huggable as one can imagine (although she tries). The rest appear to be stumping on a platform of claimed competence and experience--not the "I feel your pain" warmth of Bill's 1996 victory over then-too-dour Bob.

No More Tears
The capstone of the article is a one-page editorial by Michael Elliott on the "Diana effect." The gist of the article is that while the aristocrat's 1996 death lead to a very '90s-style outpouring of un-self-conscious and heart-felt emotion, 2007 Britain, and perhaps most of the Western world, is, conversely, in a far more "stiff-upper-lip"-ish mode. Tellingly, Elliott is neither surprised nor put off by this; rather, he embraces it. His final words? "You can't fuel a society on flowers alone." If that isn't the antithesis of the 20th-Century version of the "gay '90s" of the prior century, I don't know what is.

We Get to Fit in Now?
Perhaps, then, we as a profession may find ourselves for once in a half-century not at odds with the popular "world feeling." After fifty years of overt hedonism, rebellion, exaltation of emotion, destruction of traditional mores and embrace of the material, the indulgent and the weepy, we as lawyers may actually be on track. Perhaps our temperament as cautious, cynical, careful and perfectionist may finally have found a voice that is not dissonant with our non-lawyer acquaintances. Will we now fit in? And if we do, is this a "good" thing? It remains to be seen.

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