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Persuading in a suit, when we were once children frolicking in the sun

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As I became ten years old and beyond, I noticed more often the premium that was paid for children to act more mature as they got older. Why? To have a disconnect with the power of our children within? To become easily tamed humanoids, so that adults could turn their attention to other matters? To be socialized to be future cogs in the capitalist work force?

Everything needs a balance, of course. When we lose the power and wonder of the child within, and even lose out on our childhood because of trauma and deprivation of love and other basic needs, something is very much missing.

As I observe potential jurors filing into the courtroom, judges taking the bench, prosecutors walking through the courtroom doors, police witnesses gathering in the courtroom hallways, and civilian witnesses finding their way to the courtroom, I know that all of them have their own stories, that they were all children once before being molded into adults often with too little of their childhoods now left within them, and that all have their fears. Their visages usually are stoic about their trials and tribulations, except for crime victims recounting the crime.

Most of these people will not readily tell their unvarnished stories, which often involve plenty of pain, to anyone but their closest confidantes. Their trials and tribulations need to be acknowledged, but never manipulated nor tampered with, never ever.

I too much lost my sense of childhood too early when at seven or eight years old I was shown a very graphic documentary of the Holocaust, including scenes of Hitler’s dead and still slightly moving murder victims. I was told that I was about to see a very disturbing television program, but that it had to be watched. As I watched the program, I felt very alone, very frightened, and like I was living on one f**ked up planet. During and after the program, nobody was there to help comfort me sufficiently nor to talk to me about the severe psychological trauma that I had suffered from experiencing this reality on television and that the Holocaust victims suffered, and I did not realize that I should be seeking out counseling, whether of the formal or informal kind, for what I had just suffered. I took little comfort that all this violence had taken place a quarter century ago already; it led me to become much more distrustful of others.

The trauma started earlier, as I was exposed to images of the ongoing Vietnam War — which was already in full force by 1966 when I was three years old — in Life magazine and elsewhere, and to bloody violence in television and in the movie theater. None of this trauma was anything compared to those who were on the receiving end of the actual physical violence.

Among the most traumatizing images from the Vietnam War were that of the self-immolation of 66-year-old Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc — which I saw when I was around five or six years old — who on June 11, 1963, in Saigon followed a centuries-old practice of suicide by fire, in this instance protesting government persecution of Buddhists. (See more about Thich Quang Duc here, here, and here). Did he realize, though, the effect that the image of his burning-to-a-crisp body would have on children seeing the photo? I was also deeply traumatized from seeing a photo of the 1972 napalming in a Vietnamese village that resulted in the image of a naked girl, Kim Phuc, running desperately for safety but still getting severely burned by the napalm, and the 1968 photo of Viet Cong officer Nguyá»…n Văn Laem summarily executed  on the street by Nguyan Ngac Loan, a general of police in South Vietnamese, close in time to when those photos were taken.

At some point, I started numbing myself to my trauma over the world’s violence. As I got older, I saw it as not masculine to get too emotional, and felt less pain in running away from painful experiences than in confronting them. Unfortunately, in the process of running away from my own feelings, I became too insensitive to others’ feeling and my own.

Deep down, though, I am a  feeler, so my escapes from my feelings were, fortunately, temporary at best. By the time I attended the Trial Lawyers College in 1995, I was stunned to realize the number of people with their sh*t seemingly together by any measure, who had plenty of psychological trauma still left to address in their lives. A watchword at the Trial Lawyers College was to discovery and know ourselves fully, from our strengths to our weaknesses, and our joys to our pain. The pain is to be discovered, embraced and sent on its way, but if the pain is ignored, it will grow in exponential rates and consume a person.

Although alleged drug and drunk driving crimes take up a large bulk of my work as a criminal defense lawyer, over time, I have defended plenty of people accused of — with many actually responsible for — plenty of heinous things, from beating the crap out of others without sufficient provocation, to murders and rapes and incest sometimes influenced by trauma and numbness to lives and others. At my best, I remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s Please Call Me by My True Names," recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, Thich Nhat Hanh 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." I learned long ago how to humanize my clients, and even to be ready to defend a man for a retrial that I obtained, after having been convicted of raping his own grandmother.

Why do I daily expose myself, through my work, to people’s deep trials and tribulations, which affect all my clients, or else they would not be investing their money for my service? What is the alternative? To sit behind a desk all day writing wills and real estate closing documents? I come alive through my work as a criminal defense lawyer, and I come alive throughout the day.

So now to the title of today’s blog entry, persuading in a suit when we were once children frolicking in the sun. First of all, it is clear that plenty of children did not spend their entire childhoods frolicking in the sun, but instead faced plenty of the dark side of life, or at least the frustration and even trauma of adults trying — and sometimes forcing — them to socialize them into becoming "mature" and good students and obedient and docile humanoids. Plenty of children never felt real childhoods.

And lawyers walk in suits or other business attire into courtrooms that are usually rarefied places without windows, with those courtrooms often feeling stuffy and drafty and anything but warm and fuzzy. Some of the courtrooms have portraits of judges who previously sat on the bench in their lifeless black robes, with most of the portraits unsmiling. How many of these lawyers and prosecutors would prefer to be wearing blue jeans and t-shirts and even to cast off their shoes, and to take down those unsmiling black-robed portraits? How many want to get back in touch with their inner child?

The essence of persuasion is being real, being warmly human, being in the fearless moment, following in the path of non-duality, trusting others to have the capacity to do the right thing, being fully in touch with one’s feelings and compassion, deeply and actively and compassionately listening to words and body language and between the lines and to what is said and not said, maintaining the right balance of humor and laughter, and giving people persuasive food for thought — often done in storytelling fashion, where some of the most powerful stories persuasively disarm as much as a memory or scent can completely disarm people — rather than shoving the persuader’s position down others’ throats.

Summoning and maintaining the wonder and fearlessness of a child within is an essential part of being fully alive and human, and fearlessly and persuasively battling in court.

I deeply thank, bearhug, and bow to my seven-year-old son for reminding me every day that the workday in a suit must yield to the child within. Recently during this new school year, I walked with my son to the bus stop in the morning. which means getting to the office later, but still to court on time, and starting work plenty early at home. The entire time together was play, from running with each other to his trying to lift me up (and my letting it seem like he had done so) to being carefree in every way. At one point, he asked if I had a number two pencil. I said no, and asked if his request came from wanting to levitate a pencil, which I did with a pen, going back over four decades when I started performing amateur magic. My son enjoyed seeing the other children delight in this conjuring, which led next to my having the children blow on my closed hand to vanish a coin, only for it to re-appear in the ear of a child who I asked whether she had washed her ears that morning. Next came my biting off my thumb and showing that it had become severed from the rest of my hand, still wiggling. With few props left for magic tricks, I said that I figured many parents would be grossed out if I folded my eyelids inside out, which I did. During all this, I felt as much as a child as they did, and it carried with me the rest of the day.

Most people do not look skeptically at young children, because young children have no suspect nor harmful agendas. Most adults develop plenty of mistrust and skepticism towards adult strangers. One key, then, in my persuading is to make me into less of a stranger to others, to get to points of commonality with them, to be a real person who does not over-intellectualize (nor under-intellectualize when arguing motions and appeals), to humanize my clients to me and others, and to summon and maintain the power and wonder of the child within.