Home » Blog » Persuasion » In Persuading, Remember That People are Like Ever-Changing Rivers

Good criminal defense lawyers talk about judges and prosecutors, because an important part of persuading is knowing the people we are persuading and battling.

However, the judge, prosecutor or anyone else we see today is not the same one we see tomorrow nor saw yesterday, nor are we. People and life are ever-changing (and ever-developing, if on the right path), like rivers, with changes in the flow speed, the flow path and erosion of the river floor and river banks, the influx and departure of fish and other water life and riverbank life, the direction of molecules, and the constant movement of the molecules from their original starting point. Then the water evaporates into clouds or freezes into ice. The water molecule might then come down as rain, this time in a different location, with a new path and with new opportunities.

Life is impermanent, yet people too often try to hold onto their youth, others, their past, their wealth, their perception of wealth, their position, and their very life, knowing that at some point our hearts stop beating, and with many or most not sure what happens next, and whether we ever will have consciousness again after our heart stops. Life in our current bodies is so fleeting that we should be celebrating every day and every moment in our bodies, rather than making ourselves miserable pursuing safe college majors, safe graduate degrees, safe jobs, safe friends, and safe lifestyles all in the hopes of never lacking for money to pay the bills, people to make us not feel lonely, and activities that will not make us suffer boredom, feelings of meaninglessness, and derision, gossip and ridicule from others. That is not living. That is being undead at best.

That is not to say that we should live recklessly and with full abandon, without regard to the potentially adverse consequences of risky choices. That does not mean that we should only do what is pleasurable to avoid the blisters of pulling weeds to make room for the plants that give us food for our nutrition and flowers to brighten our days. I do say that finding what gives us joy and pursuing the joyful path is the only way to go, will make otherwise dull-seeming and unpleasant-seeming tasks and work be easier and less effortless to handle and do well, will make life unfold in a much more fulfilling way, will make us much more productive and successful in our work, and will make us of more benefit in helping others for both the sake of helping and in the course of our careers.

Nevertheless, already having known all of the above and having put much of it into concerted practice for years, my teacher Ram Dass still went into deep depression over his massive stroke in the late 1990’s. Ultimately, though, he recognized the stroke as fierce grace reminding him of the essential path of non-duality, including that we are not our bodies, nor even individuals at all, as much as we feel we are individuals. When I finally met Ram Dass for the first and only time in 2003, he firmly took hold of my hand with his still-working hand, looked me straight in the eye, and encouraged me along life’s path. Ram Dass seeks not to be revered, but to serve everyone. He is inspiration personified.

If as highly advanced a being as Ram Dass went from high enlightenment and joy to deep depression and then back to high vibrations, then more ordinary people are at least as subject to those ups and downs.

How many people wake up each morning wanting to be somewhere else, with someone else, or in a job somewhere else (or better yet, on a wonderful vacation)? How many people want to be someone else? Yet, most people wake up each morning, with many simply going through the motions to survive another day and not be marginalized by others should the person alienate them, while on the other end of the spectrum are those that greet each day with gratitude and look forward to what lies ahead for the day and for the rest of their lives.

Then, like a constantly changing river, something may happen in the joyful person’s life that triggers him or her into a gray abyss, and something might happen to the feeling-down person to feel on top of the world, for a sustained period of time, and not in the form of mood swings.

Recently, an ordinarily likable prosecutor from an office that has plenty of arrogant and abrasive-acting colleagues, apologized if he appeared to be cutting me off in conversation that morning, so that he could get to a few more pressing obligations before the judge. I told him that is fine, and that he has never offended me. He quipped that maybe he is not doing his job effectively enough, then. Then, as if to lampoon his quip, after lunch that same day with another case that was set for trial between us, he did for the first time irritate me, seeming to be all on a high horse about an evidentiary issue, and then walking away. I then did a double-take, recognizing that intervening before his walking away was my passionate admonition: “If you want to approach it that way, I will move to exclude your witness’s testimony.” We both quickly got our wits about us, and proceeded to trial in a civil manner, and he proactively gave me a desirable settlement offer mid-trial in this DWI case.

This prosecutor, and I, just like all people at all times, we’re like rivers, which sometimes thrash the shore in storms, sometimes easily glide downstream, sometimes stagnate, and sometimes whirl and dance.

The judge and prosecutor that can irritate the most are not automatically those with well-earned reputations of heartlessness, injudiciousness and uncaring, but the ones who usually seem to be the opposite, but then fall into the behavior of seeming heartlessness, injudiciousness, and uncaring. We can more effectively and quickly get that river back on the right path by not taking the others’ seeming trespasses personally, and by not fanning the flames coming out of their mouths, heads and ears, even if they are trying to harm us. At best, we can find points of common ground with them to inspire them to do things to help get great results for our clients.

If I am a judge all jaded by litigants no more happy to be in my courtroom than to be in the dentist’s chair, and all complaining, whining, and bickering all the way, I am going to perk up when a lawyer or pro se litigant gets before me at once ready effectively to present his or her cause (and certainly not to kiss butt) and gives me the information, arguments, and benefit of the doubt to do the right thing.

All people and life are like ever changing rivers. Never forget that. It is time to dive, swim, bathe, drink from, and dance in that river.