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The persuasive and other beneficial power of compassion and lovingkindness in action

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The story goes that a particular criminal defendant waived his right to remain silent, and testified at his felony assault jury trial. He was successful at being calm throughout direct examination. That all quickly reversed as the prosecutor during cross examination pushed the defendant’s buttons repeatedly, to get an angry rise out of the defendant, who finally flipped and exploded in rage. Clearly, the defendant would have best stayed off the witness stand if he could not have figured out how to control his anger. His rage on the witness stand showed all the more that he was eminently capable of committing the felony assault crime of which he was accused.

Around twelve years ago, I returned to my office from court. Once again, it seemed that one of the contractors’ vehicles had taken my designated parking space, when I saw no alternative spaces on the lot nor nearby on the street. I got out of my car and slammed my door shut in anger. Unfortunately, my slamming thumb had been standing stiffly straight forward, and the base of my thumb swelled almost to the size of a golf ball from slamming the door (luckily, the door did not slam onto any part of my body). I then spent even more time driving to the nearby pharmacy for an ice pack; the swelling fortunately subside almost as soon as it had grown.

Anger never does any good. It weakens. It is based on fear. Particularly when an opponent feels outgunned, the opponent is all the more likely to try to cause anger I the otherwise better-equipped party, because an angry person cannot effectively use his or her weapons.

The cousins of anger are frustration, irritation, and impatience. I have had clients’ parents get frustrated and downright upset at me for adhering to my retainer agreement’s provision that there is just one client, the defendant, who is the only one I am serving. They do not intend on irritating or angering me, but those relatives who insist (sometime with my client’s green light, which at times only arises from my client’s feeling coerced by the parent) on participating in attorney-client communications are an additional challenge for me. to feel frustration, irritation, impatience, or even anger. I have a choice between putting my foot immediately and firmly down with friends or family members of my clients who insist on being like an additional client and sometimes a downright usurper of the attorney-client relationship, or to compassionately listen and to make clear that I understand the caring motive behind their communications, but that I still only have one client I am serving.

I heard a story of a five-star hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., that each morning puts out free pastries, coffee tea, juice, and other vittles for its guests. A woman — possibly a hotel guest, possibly not — was ranting and raving against the service being provided by the hotel staff for this breakfast. The management could have told her to leave if she was not a hotel guest, or to pipe down. Instead, a manager compassionately walked over to the woman, answered her questions about the breakfast, made sure she got the food and table she wanted, and the commotion ended. Whether or not the manager was motivated more to avoid extra commotion by telling the woman to leave — versus a pure compassion motive — his response showed the power of compassion in action, and the woman was likely very positively changed by receiving compassion, possibly the first time in a long time that she had received compassion.

What in a courtroom and courthouse conveys compassion and warmth? The vast majority of courthouses where I appear exude no more warmth in physical appearance and feel than a testosterone-fueled steakhouse dining room design, with calfs and cows being slaughtered one after the other in the kitchen, before the rest of the animals’ eyes. These windowless, drafty, stuffy courthouses that are long on majesty, expensive paneling and furniture, unsmiling portraits of retired judges (overwhelmingly white men, with little or nothing to offset the image of centuries of white male dominance in American society), and labyrinths of jail cells, are short on a human, compassionate face and spirit. The message conveys control, control, control, in a way that is heavily antithetical to our civics classes that underline ideals of democracy, personal freedom, and a government that is supposed to be a necessary evil serving the interests of the people, rather than the other way around. Your tax dollars at misallocated work.

How else do I transform the oppressive message of courthouses other than to maintain my same sense of wonder, humor, compassion, and lovingkindness that I experience when I am having wonderful times with my family and friends?

For us to show powerful compassion and lovingkindness to others, we must do the same for ourselves as well.  I can give metta/lovingkindnes wishes, meditation and prayers to myself, my clients my allies, opponents, and those with whom I am in conflict, without weakening myself, and in fact empowering myself further by practicing non-anger. Metta meditation can powerfully proceed as addressed here, ending with the following wish: "May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering."

I would not be as compelled to be writing today’s blog entry if I did not still have much more to achieve in being consistently non-angry, patient, non-annoyed, non-frustrated, compassionate and loving. It is easy to have such a positive disposition at a weekend retreat in beautiful, secluded, natural surroundings — but even there one can experience what my teacher Tara Brach calls window wars (are we going to keep the meditation hall windows open or closed?), and also boredom or at least restlessness when called to constant serenity, and, at some retreats, heavy or total non-speaking.

About a decade ago, I met a man who became a devotee of Maharaji/Neem Karoli Baba, without first knowing about Ram Dass, who became Ram Dass after becoming a devotee of Maharaji. After I told this man how influential an impact Ram Dass has had on me, the man gave me the picture of Maharaji that hee kept in his wallet, with Maharaji’s face on one side, and the soles of his feet on the other (apparently, in India, guru’s feet are considered sacred). I thanked him deeply, but asked what he was going to carry in his wallet. He had more photos immediately available, as it turned out.

A few times, I have considered putting another image in m car in place of Maharaji’s photo. However, I realize that his photo reminds me of the necessity and power of unconditional lovinkindness. His photo has stayed in my car ever since. 

Inspiring me to write today’s blog entry is the newest book I have bought, Ram Dass’s new "Polishing the Mirror" (see here also),where Ram Dass proclaims: "Love is the doorway to oneness with all things, to being in harmony with the entire universe."