For the past three days, I’ve been a participant-observer in a workshop for healthcare professionals presented by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a member of the faculty at University of California Medical School in San Francisco and a fellow program director at Commonweal. Entitled The Healing Power of Story: Opening to a Deeper Human Connection, this workshop taught simple, accessible, and yet profound ways to reclaim surprise, meaning, and inspiration in the ordinary everyday encounters that professionals have with colleagues, clients, and patients.
Rachel’s work speaks most directly to healthcare professionals because of commonalities in the personal values and qualities that led them to choose nursing, or medicine, or veterinary practice, or psychotherapy as career paths. All the people in the room (except me) had discovered before they were ten years old that caring for the needs of other living things was a fundamental organizing purpose of their lives.
And yet I, a lawyer, saw immediately how these practices and insights could help members of my own profession reclaim meaning and integration in our daily work with clients–serving them better, and at the same time taking better care of ourselves as human beings. It seems to me that the profound organizing purpose that most of us in the legal profession discovered in our early years and that we carry forth in our work arises out of deeply held values of fairness and peace. Yet as we learn to be lawyers, we are socialized to move away from important human qualities and behaviors that surely are central in helping our clients find fair resolution and peace.
To become lawyers, we have struggled to hone necessary skills and to become excellent at what we do. Although most of us brought to the table a facility with language, argumentation and logic, nonetheless it came easily to none of us to “think like a lawyer,” the first hard lesson of a legal education. Many of us have paid a steep price as we shaped ourselves to match the professional persona of a lawyer, pruning away what doesn’t match the official job description (empathy is often one of the early casualties) and squeezing into the box inconvenient human qualities (our own emotions, our own most accessible ways of apprehending reality) unrelated to legalistic deductive reasoning, so as to keep them unseen and under control.
Do we have to leave behind essential humanity to practice law? I don’t think so. But that’s what happens to us in law school and in our on the job experiences in court. No wonder lawyers register so high in all the indicia of a profession in trouble: drug abuse, alcoholism, major depression, suicide. We tend not to want our children to follow in our footsteps, and perhaps this problem–the loss of intrinsic human meaning in our daily work–is the reason.
I’ve taken from Rachel’s workshop some proven approaches that you’ll be seeing in the programs on reclaiming meaning in legal practice that the Integrative Law Institute will be offering during late 2012 and 2013. We will examine what we have in common that drew us to law rather than other professions, and what is intrinsic to helping others heal breaches in the social fabric, and what is not.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to join the list of lawyers, mediators, and judges receiving earliest notification and enrollment information for these events.
Rachel is the author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings.