Jul 12, 2017 Viewing the world in black & white obscures the gold among the feces in criminal court
Numerous times, my Underdog blog returns to the theme of succeeding in criminal defense and in life through non-anger, finding the gold specks among the feces, and remembering that even the most despicable-seeming person can rise at times to admirable levels of humanity.
If we treated each day and opportunity as if we were a short-term visitor on this earth, we would not as easily get irritated at such minor transgressions of others as holding their burning cigarettes outside their car windows to stink up everyone’s air but their car’s, cutting us off in traffic, and not listening to us when we call customer service. That is because short-term visitors are too busy being in awe of the delights around them and appreciating the hospitality of those rolling out the welcome mat to them.
My taekowndo/ Korean karate teacher during college exemplified the above approach beautifully. Mr. Lee was in his late forties or so when I knew him. He loved each day and each moment. He delighted in taekwondo and relating such stories as the taekwondo master who loved the martial art so much that he would go outside even in the dead of winter to have fun punching a tree for practice (apologies to the tree). When we had our exam to progress to our next color belt, Mr. Lee included as a judge a former Korean military officer who told us about the use of taekowndo in that nation’s military. Rather than my thinking too long about the brutal dictatorship that existed when this gentleman was in the military, I focused on what he had to say about this great martial art.
Taijiquan master Cheng Man Ch’ing, who taught my taijiquan teacher Julian Chu’s teacher Ben Lo similarly approached each day in delight and awe. If someone tried attacking Professor Cheng, he would simply smile and neutralize their attempted attack with the least effort needed. His biographer Wolfe Lowenthal describes Professor Cheng’s taijiquan studio as a hotbed of great energy, where the professor not only taught and spoke about taijiquan, but also painted, arranged flowers, and saw his medical patients in his role as an accomplished Chinese physician.
For too many years, right until I started work as a public defender lawyer, I saw too much gray in life, with all the daily human rights violations and vile actions against others. Maybe I needed to include that stage in my life on the path to being non-dualistic so that internal well-being trumps being emotionally affected by outside forces. Maybe not. Yes, we sometimes need to be appalled by sorry states of affairs to be motivated to action, but we must not let our disgust paralyze us. The accomplished warrior/fighter battles well both in the boxing ring where fair rules and refereeing prevail, and in the proverbial gladiator ring where no rules of fairness govern and it is all about the bloody law of the jungle at best.
Even the most seemingly vile-tongued judge, prosecutor or judge will include some useful words, if only the listener will listen and provide the speaker with a comfort level to speak. Even the most horrid-seeming statute or judicial opinion might include some beneficial provision. Even the most bumbling and uncaring-seeming customer service representative might at times whip out a proverbial gift to the listener.
Yes, never turn your back on people who can do you harm, and beware sharing with them information or personal weaknesses that they might use against you. At the same time, do not let yourself become debilitated by all the rottenness in life. We will always have rottenness in life to varying degrees, starting with our own old age, sickness and death, if that is even to be characterized as rotten in the first place. On the subject of death, Zoketsu Norman Fischer (whom I met at the 2015 East Coast mindful lawyering retreat) and so many others remind us that death is all around us, including being reborn into each new moment out of the passing of the last moment. Our rebirth into each moment should be a moment of celebration, and not kvetching that Donald Trump remains our president — thanks to the Electoral College that must be scrapped — for instance, rather than taking effective and peaceful action to assure Trump does not see another term in office, anywhere.
Speaking of Donald Trump, a good example of finding the good in otherwise unlikable people can start for me with Trump. As much as I voted against him while holding my nose voting for Hillary Clinton, I have seen Trump as not as severe a war hawk as a president Hillary Clinton, less likely to try to dismantle Citizens United (which case would have deeply scarred the First Amendment if the dissenting justices had their way), and more likely to support keeping teeth in the Second Amendment (because removing the teeth from any part of the Bill of Rights rots the teeth of the rest of the Constitution’s Amendments).
Of course, Donald Trump is child’s play compared to Eugen Herrigel — except that Herrigel never became a government official — whom I heralded when I read his Zen in the Art of Archery eight years ago, only to learn this year that he subsequently became a die-hard Nazi by the time Hitler took power between the time of Herrigel’s Zen in the Art experience and actually publishing this important book postwar. Of course, as a result I can never read Herrigel in the same way again, but his having become a Nazi does not diminish the importance and benefit of Zen in the Art for me.
Veering back to politics, this week I became aware on Twitter that actor James Woods is a big Trump fan. That does not diminish for me how excellently he performed in The Onion Field nor my great memory of separately seeing him and Elizabeth Ray (another 15-minute famous political character) at Beverly Hill’s Spago restaurant on the same 1983 night.
But I digress, or do I? Life is so full of fascination and discovery that the actual and seeming transgressions of others tempt us to react to them, but we react negatively to them at our own peril. The accomplished warrior acknowledges the world’s ills and has full empathy for those suffering in the face of those ills, but does not get sucked into those ills nor the suffering. To do otherwise will prevent the warrior’s success in criminal trials and in life.