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Hearing where others’ minds and feelings are at this very moment

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Recently during rush hour, an anxious driver was weaving in and out between his two lanes to get somewhere. I tried changing lanes so that he would pass rather than collide with or further irritate me. Instead, twice or thrice he started changing lanes without signalling as I was changing into the same lane, timely signalling to his oblivion. Eventually, he passed me, and blew a red light without even slowing down or stopping, risking a multi-car collision, ultimately entering the shopping mall parking lot straight ahead of him. What was his rush? To be the first in line for the first day of a swimsuit sale? To arrive to work on time? To go to the bathroom?

Part of me wanted to follow this man into the parking garage and make sense of what had led him to drive so anxiously and erratically and then blow a red light to risk a collision. That was not going to happen. I had my own destination to go to, and he did too, based on his anxious driving. He may very well have taken any approach by me as an affront and reacted in any variety of ugly ways, and I myself needed the dust to settle in my mind to refocus having compassion for this man as a human being, regardless of the harm that his driving risked to others.

We can wake up in the morning ready to take the world by the horns, or else ready to get p*ssed off at the apparent trespasses of others throughout the day, where the seeming trespasses ordinarily less often arise from an intention to irritate others, but out of a combination of being unawakened, selfish, hateful (which ordinarily also means self-hateful), or even of mistaken impression by some or all involved or a reasonable mindset that just differs from the reasonable mindset of one or more others.

We keep on track to taking the world by the horns by seeing the apparent trespasses of others as opportunities to pick and choose whether, when and how to perceive, learn from, and address those apparent trespasses, rather than to depend on those or any other outside forces for determining our sense of well being. Once we take that approach, we have cleared out much of our internal gunk to enable us more optimally to integrate and relate with ourselves, others, and our surrounding environment and circumstances, and, as a result, to have a better sense of well being, and, at work, to make us more effective, efficient, productive and persuasive.

When we quiet the noise of our own apprehensions, anxieties and stress — starting with reducing those factors in the first place — we are more ready and better able to hear what other people are going through. On a professional level, that includes my hearing and sensing the feelings, thoughts and circumstances of my clients, judges, jurors, prosecutors and witnesses.

With my clients, that means checking in with them, not only by my asking how they are doing, but by using my instinct as well. Plenty of my clients in their own usual workdays and leisure time present a convincing exterior of having everything together. Everyone, though, has their demons. For those people who have and want to maintain people’s perception that they have everything together, the pressure can feel great to always present that persona if inside they have major psychological concerns to handle, for instance stress, health issues, job issues, financial issues and relationship issues.

Lawyers, psychological professionals and priests during confession are among the people who see others more as they truly are, because who else do people fully open up to? Even when a person is opening up to a family member or friend, the talker knows that the family member or friend is having his or her own reactions that could affect that family relationship or friendship, or simply the well being of the listening family member or friend. One’s opening up to his or her lawyer, psychologist or priest gives the talker more of an opportunity to open up to another trusted person without the baggage of wondering how the talker’s words might detrimentally affect the talker’s relationship with each of those professionals, which is not to say that I am here to serve in the role of quasi-psychologist or quasi-priest at the confessional, which I am not.

My clients and others are not going to reveal themselves to me if I do not convey that I am open to and want them to reveal themselves, that I will not judge them for it, that I will fully listen, and that I will maintain compassion for them. Certainly, I need to modify that approach once I am going outside the defense team to deal with judges, jurors, prosecutors and witnesses, but the foregoing is the starting point.

Of course it takes more time to take the foregoing approach, but criminal defense is about fully battling and not taking shortcuts. Shortcuts can be taken in restaurant kitchens and tailor shops, but not in criminal defense. Moreover, the more that my client and I are a united front, the stronger is the defense team. Even if my client is sweating inside, and even outside, when the prosecutor sees that my client and I work together and integrate like a well oiled machine, the prosecutor sees fewer opportunities nor reasons to try to divide and conquer me and my client (for instance trying to divide and conquer by scaring the defendant into a guilty plea during a motions hearing or in a written court filing by the prosecutor’s harsh tone of voice and words).

Part of my being in a united front with my client is to check in with my client, not only by keeping in communication beyond strategy and case update sessions with my client during the course of my representation, but also by checking in with my client when we are in the courthouse and courtroom and elsewhere, beyond asking how all is going, to deeply sensing and listening to what is going on with my client. Simply being present with my client or another person while giving them my full time, attention, and ears can help comfort the other person and help them be calmly in the present. It is in the present moment that the strongest performance always is delivered.

When we stay fully in the present moment, the distractions and stresses and anxieties start melting away, because most distractions, stresses and anxieties are about the past and future, and not the present moment. This being in the present moment and clearing away of tensions and distractions can be contagious.