“I felt I had touched his heart” – Sister Ardeth Platte. Persuading with non-anger
I grew up with a lot of anger. Of course, anger is rooted in fear. When I did not feel anger, I often felt a lot of tension. It took decades for me to come to sufficient grips with the bigotry that so many people directed at me and others of many walks of life and backgrounds, nastiness by others that led me to sharpen my words and sometimes fists (tapering off as a teenager) as weapons, and constant human rights violations by governments and so many others. Of course, when I am at peace, that peace can infect others, but it took a long time for me to learn that about peace.
During my twenty-two years as a criminal defense lawyers, interspersed among my now-main clientele of people charged with drunk driving and drug offenses, have been people accused of horrid acts, with plenty of them having committed those acts, including my client who raped his grandmother.
When at a reception around 2001 at the ACLU’s national legislative office in Washington, D.C., after Charles Ogletree had argued for a death row inmate before the Supreme Court, and when I still was with my first law firm, a corporate one, I asked a public defender lawyer there how she was able to justify defending rape defendants whom she knew had actually committed the charged offense. She said that it is the prosecutor’s role to meet its burden of proof, and that a good criminal defense lawyer requires prosecutors to meet that burden.
Her answer did not sufficiently satisfy me. Intellectually it made sense, but I could not immediately internalize it to my heart zone.
Around six months later, I joined the Maryland Public Defender’s Office, ecstatic about helping ordinary people, to level the playing field for clients who could not otherwise afford a lawyer, and about defending the Bill of Rights. With each passing day as a public defender lawyer, like peeling layers from an onion, I got my own better answer to why I was defending people regardless of the alleged crime. On an intellectual level, I felt convinced that the criminal justice system was overly unfair to criminal defendants, and that the Burger and Rehnquist Supreme Courts had undone too much of the protections for criminal defendants that developed during the Warren Supreme Court. In the heart zone, I saw all the personal challenges and tribulations that so many of my clients went through daily, which did not justify violent actions by any of them, but did underline what I later learned from Thich Nhat Hanh and Publius Terrence: As Publius Terence said: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Thich Nhat Hanh takes Publius Terrence a step further in his poem “Please Call Me by My True Names,” recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, he could have become the child raped by a pirate as well as the pirate who raped her, “my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.”
Being loving, kind, and non-angry is powerful without replacement, for persuasion and for life, and can be done without kissing anyone’s butts. Here are some inspirations for me on that path:
- Criminal defense lawyer John Delgado is at once powerfully persuasive and powerfully caring.
- Highly vibrating Ardeth Platte, a Dominican nun with Baltimore’s Jonah House peace community, told me a few years ago of interacting with a Pentagon police officer whom she met at prior peace actions there, and feeling she had touched his heart.
Here, Sister Ardeth returns to the nuclear missile site where she was arrested in 2002 for a peace action. Ardeth shows only love to the sheriff who arrested her in 2002. He seems to like the returning nuns, Ardeth and Carol Gilbert (who served her time at the same Alderson prison where Martha Stewart served her sentence). How much does the magic mirror inform the officer’s affinity for the nuns?
- Truly warm hugs inspire me. During the 2000 Plowshares trial that I co-tried, at one outdoor break, someone suggested I needed a hug. This may have been when I was coming to terms with the defendants having ceased participation in the trial, and staying in the courtroom lockup for the rest of the trial. That was the biggest group hug I had ever experienced. It will always stay with me. None of the group sought to convert my religion; at that moment their only focus was on me.
- Robert Thurman — who bursts with great and often funny energy when he speaks — says that the Dalai Lama feels each blow to a person’s head, but is still joyful, because doing otherwise will only add to existing misery. Bob Thurman: We can be Buddhas
- The philosopher Seneca said that a judge’s “countenance should be calm and unmoved when he is delivering a weighty sentence”.
- Wayne Dyer reminds us “I am a human being. Not a human doing.”