Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The last entry in the blog about rights, obligations and privilege drew a lot of blood from my followers. For many, they find my blogs intellectual and heavy on the intellect; others read them and assume meaning and ramifications that are nowhere in it. However, for followers of Kant, Rawls and even classic Locke, people seem to get how my comparisons work. This is the respect for the integrity of the person, regardless of what position they are in society. It bestows both rights and responsibilities on all citizens, and as such doesn't differ because somebody has a million dollar mansion, and the other is on welfare. As equal citizens, we all reap what we sow, and deserve full integrity of our person as we make choices. I critique society's view of the poor and disabled, and separated them into a context of how some see a split between a "deserving" sect and an "undeserving" sect, which always befuddled me, as this context cannot be reasonably decided by an outsider who is not in the shoes of the other. How come something as easy for me to understand is so difficult for some others to wrap their heads around?

In the context of my professional life, I learned to accept and acknowledge all kinds of people, their behaviours, cultures and attitudes. When I first began to work independently in private practice, many things people would say to me bothered me, or shocked my senses. At times, I thought the walls had ears in my old office, as many of the words of the people who have come to see me over the years are reflected in the aging process, and the ghosts and creak of the old building I was in. Over the years, the personification of my environment is such that I learned to find it easier to tolerate and understand, rather than to judge and criticize. I met people in all walks of life, all persuasions, all orientations, all attitudes, and many who have done some terrible things, or have had terrible things done to them. Many have come to me to rant, often loudly, about the injustices and idiocy of the legal system, the very system where I make my living. I can only nod my head, the customer is always right ... the system is what a person perceives it to be, I have tried to fight a lot of fights, which many clients sometimes believe we should have won, but there are no guarantees. I walked into the courtroom many times believing we had a solid case, only to lose, as well as other times, walking in believing our chances were sketchy at best, but we surprisingly win!

My friends ask me how do I deal with the stress of it all. I don't. I sometimes have to walk away. It is not good to carry that much sorrow inside, and then try to understand why this much pain is possible. An instant distraction is what is needed, or I do not do well with continuing what it was I started. Like many of you, I walk the streets of my community, and I see people fast asleep on the benches around the market square, or in the doorways of business buildings on the main streets of downtown. During the day, these same people and others are making their rounds asking for change. To me, these people are no more welcome than the solicitors for some charity standing on the street corner, accosting as many passers by as they can, only to try to part you with your money. This is not the problem; it is merely a symptom. A society that is working well would not have the charities soliciting people on street corners and disparaged people trying to knock up other people for "spare change".

My downtown can be a beautiful place, and in fact, I love it in the spring when the buskers make their way and do an impromptu act across the old courtyard, or by the market, as throngs of people make their way inside to shop for produce and other foodstuff from our local farmers. My downtown can be as informal as my walking into Tim Horton's, meeting various colleagues seeking a coffee after court, or a friend seeking to speak to me about the latest on anything. I walk downtown during the day if I suffer from information overload at the office, only to get it from a different angle in the streets. A true sign of spring is when the city workers begin to water the plants in their holders all along St. Paul Street ... the water dripping from the hose down to the sidewalk below contrasts directly with the beaming sunlight beating down from above. Crowds of people on patios, casually chatting over expresso and iced coffee, as others cycle by ... the relaxed nature of a downtown attracts the positive nature of people.

After I return to the office, I continue on my exciting, and sometimes, dreadful journeys. I preside over some devastating issues, where regardless of which way a party moves, somebody gets hurt. My role is to minimize the damage. I work on litigation cases, which I gather information, conduct a search of parties, draft a claim, assemble it, issue it and file it, and then figure out a way to serve it on the unsuspecting parties these papers are going to. Other times, I write and seek information, and provide feedback to a person as to which way they move their pieces on this ever emerging chessboard. It is just when there are too many chessboards, or too many pieces missing, when I become frazzled. To me, things need to fit together, and resemble calm. My job is to find out where these pieces fit, because they always fit somewhere, just not always where you think they should.

I live a life that some tell me they envy, where I encounter, work with, engage with and partake with, all ranks of life, including the millionaires, the paupers, the persons with disabilities, the legal professionals, the artisans and the poets. Each day, taking a dose of each adds a different something to my world. I have had jobs where I have directly worked with senior government officials, including Cabinet Ministers, whereas the next day, I am assisting somebody who had been evicted from their home to find another. I have been in the worst hovels of this region, even remembering many of their addresses, and have been in the fanciest million dollar homes and private enclaves of the wealthy. I've been in the non-profit sector, where I fondly remember publishing the newsletter, and presenting our position to Parliamentary committees. I still do a lot of that, except today, I share my knowledge and experience with coalitions that are doing their damnedest to change so much of what is wrong.

Being self-employed, some believe I can do and say as I wish, but this is not necessarily the whole truth. In fact, most of the time, I am buried in work, and it is also my role to protect myself from being submerged in minute details, anxiety about what I am to do next week, and the week thereafter. Some tell me I am courageous to take on the region with respect to bringing transit to everybody, but this is something that has pestered me, and it would certainly pester me more, if I sat on my hands like the others did, and just hoped something will happen. As a protagonist, I need to make things happen. I can't sit on my hands when things are so wrong. I knew how to tell as a young child when something around me was wrong, or when somebody was treating me in a way that was improper. I always felt things physically, and in many respects, I can only describe the pain in physical matter. It comes down to that personal integrity thing again; part of my personal integrity involves being and belonging, as well as practicing citizenship rights, and where others do or do not do something that prevents me from fully exercising the same is when my world needs to be shifted right. Things need to change.

It is a falsehood to assume that all people are created equal on this planet ... inequality certainly cuts in a predictable fashion, with some people deemed to be "hard working" and thus "deserving", while others are not so deserving ... but few ever question why the "deserving" seem to be over-represented by individuals in groups that are not traditionally disadvantaged. More whites than blacks curiously end up in the "deserving" pile; more able-bodied than persons with disabilities end up in the "deserving" pile. More men than women end up there as well. This is no accident. One might argue that women, persons with disabilities and blacks do not "work hard" or all come from "bad seed" that seems to keep them back, but we know that as a society, we tend to individualize traits, as opposed to trying to analyze them from a broader world perspective. This is reminiscent of Kelly's attribution theory, where the worst of a situation makes it more the fault of the person it happened to ... almost upstaged from concrete operational thinking, Jean Piaget's analysis for children in their developmental stages. For the most part, those in the "undeserving" category face barriers to their success. This is not the fault of the people with advantage, but it is the fault of those that put policies and programs in place, and distribute wealth and income, or who make hiring decisions.

As I stated earlier, if such policy makers, employers, government officials and others in power, were to learn how to put their feet into the shoes of the other, and govern as though they do not know where they will end up once the rule, policy or law is passed. They may be a pauper, a millionaire, a storekeeper, a student, or a person with a disability. Regardless, the universality of the policy would apply, and unfortunately, we cannot train our rulers to think this way. Our rulers are only concerned with how to retain their jobs as rulers, and not how to truly govern and lead. As long as problems and despair only belong to other people, the rulers of today are not sufficiently dismayed as to find ways to relief them of such. They apply the band-aid, or they apply the punishment, whatever way the wind is blowing at the time. Not a nice way to intellectually determine the world ...

But, as part of my profession, I often have to guide people to make decisions, sometimes decisions that are very difficult, and no matter how we decide, somebody can get hurt. As a leader, I try to balance it the best I can. The result is usually the best result we will get, although I know somebody is hurt. I was once told by a judge that we know a mediation has been successful when both parties walk away with their lower lips dragging across the floor. That means each party takes something from it, as well as gives something up. Much of this is the art of compromise, the skill of making people retain connections, the ability to enable others to figure out how to solve their own problems, not something that is valued highly these days.

I don't know what day or year I will ever hang my hat, or if this is ever going to happen, but I want to leave the world I live in with a set of rich memories, rich understandings, and a philosophy and belief on how to lead, how to change and how to know when it is time to fight.

Your thoughts?

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