Persuading through storytelling rather than by brute argument

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Dec 15, 2010 Persuading through storytelling rather than by brute argument

A vast number of jurors have anti-lawyer biases.

Probably every judge is wary of lawyers who overintellectualize arguments with endless verbosity, and lawyers who incessantly insist that 1+1=3.

Will listeners’ ears open up more, then, if they are hearing stories rather than arguments? I think so, so long as the storyteller makes the story interesting and not excessively lengthy, engages the listeners, and has compassion and consideration for the listeners.

I have blogged numerous times about the power of storytelling, including telling one’s persuasive case story at every stage of the trial.

Last night, I drove to downtown Washington, D.C., on one of this year’s coldest and windiest days, to hear storyteller Rodger Kamenetz talk about his Burnt Books (Schocken Books, 2010) , which focuses on storytellers Franz Kafka and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, finding striking overlaps between the two men who lived a century and one thousand kilometers apart.

On this blog, I do not talk much about religion —- which has perhaps attracted all the more adherents through interesting stories — other than to address non-attachment/non-dualism as found in Buddhism and “be here now” and “be love now” as expounded, for instance, by Ram Dass, who was taken in the late Sixties by Hanuman from Hinduism, but whose primary guru Neem Karoli Baba apparently taught less about any Hindu scriptures and more about being here now and being love now. Of course, all of this, together with t’ai chi, helps me tremendously as a trial lawyer

Fortunately, by not insisting on staying rigidly on my decades-long agnostic path and by not joining atheism, I have benefitted tremendously from Buddhism to help me with a more peaceful and non-dualistic path and from being introduced fourteen years ago to Jewish Renewal, with its overlapping connections to mysticism; focus on the joyful aspects of religion rather than on the mind-numbing and lifeless aspects; and egalitarian treatment of women and men, welcoming intermarried people, and welcoming people of all sexual orientations.

Five years ago, I read Bhagavan Das’s  Its Here Now (Are You?), where in one chapter he discusses meeting a rabbi named Zalman Schacter Shalomi, experiencing peyote. That description was enough for me to seek out more information about this Rabbi Shalomi, which I found at the bookstore through his book Jewish With Feeling “- addressing Shalomi’s life, Jewish Renewal, and Shalomi’s progression from a questioner of religious practice to a Lubavitcher rabbi to a new and gender-egalitarian approach to Judaism —   which book was closeby Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew In the Lotus, which is a story arising from his joining several rabbis invited by the Dalai Lama to meet in Dharamsala, as part of the Dalai Lama’s exploration of religious and cultural survival in diaspora. One of the rabbis on that trip was Rabbi Shalomi, who is big on interfaith connections, learning about other religions, and praying in houses of worship beyond synagogues. As it turned out, I learned that the place that I have usually been going to for fourteen years for Jewish new year and Yom Kippur services is a Jewish Renewal Center, called Am Kolel in Montgomery County, Maryland, led by a remarkable man, rabbi and musician, David Shneyer.

All of the foregoing paragraph alone was worth going to meet Rodger Kamenetz last night. What struck me in particular about his talk was about the power of storytelling, and his view that Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav used storytelling to introduce progressively more and more light to people so as not to be blinded by his sharing everything all at once.

During the question-and-answer session, I asked Rodger about the regret he expressed in Stalking Elijah  — a follow-up to The Jew in the Lotus -“ about so many Jews turning away from Judaism and towards Buddhism. I pointed out the great benefits that I find in Buddhism from non-attachment/non-dualism , and asked if he finds any similar path in Judaism, besides the possibly non-dualistic/mandalistic directive by both Kafka and Rabbi Nachman to burn their writings once they had passed, which is similar to Beop Jeong’s will’s directive to stop publishing his writings.

Rodger had no similar path to offer in Judaism. He said that he has learned about Buddhism and finds many commonalities between Judaism and Buddhism when going deep down. However, in the end, he says he has a desire (Buddhism focuses on shedding desires) to be led to God (he also spoke last night about the journey of one’s soul), and wants to know his pain (which, as a dream therapist, he says is important to feel in one’s dreams if being harmed therein, or else there is a problem). He said that Buddhism is fine for those it helps, but that one has to choose, so he thinks that his path is not compatible with Buddhism.

Neale Walsch, the author of the Conversations with God series, of course talks of organized religion being all made up, and some others talk about God as being inside each of us, which is much food for thought for my agnostic path. In any event, I do not feel the need to be tied down by any organized religion, and “- despite Rodger’s view of the need to choose —  continue benefitting both from Buddhism and Judaism, which ties in with Rabbi Shalomi’s talk about finding a spiritual path using as a guidepost the religion with which one grew up.

Perhaps my very agnosticism made me so resistant that it took until seven years ago to awaken to Ram Dass and to embrace the practice that he advocates and lives of being here now and being love now, and to finally start figuring out about non-attachment/ non-dualism. It is all part of my story

ADDENDUM: (November 4, 2011) This past summer, at t’ai chi master Ben Lo’s annual class in Maryland, of all places, I met a teacher from the Jewish Renewal tradition who told me she was present at Rodger Kamenetz’s above-referenced presentation, when I asked him about non-attachment in Judaism. She told me that not knowing me, she did not approach me to say that the concept of non-attachment is found in Judaism through the idea of bitul hayesh, which apparently means losing one’s identity by becoming one with god.

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