Lessons Learned

Each year, the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association Labor gives awards to two students from each of the Twin Cities law schools for Excellence in Employment and Labor law. Last night I attended the annual meeting of the section, where I had the honor and privilege of introducing the two UST law students who received awards this year.

The Keynote Speaker for the evening was the Honorable Mark Bennett, a federal district court judge from the Northern District of Iowa. Although I had a very long day that included almost no breaks, I found his talk both enjoyable and wise.

Early in his talk, the judge shared that at the end of December of each year, rather then making New Year’s resolutions he knew he would shortly either forget or break, he reflected on and listed five lessons learned from the previous year. If he had said nothing else, I would have considered the evening worthwhile just for that suggestion, which I plan to implement and suggest to others.)

The judge shared a number of the lessons he had learned over the years, including several relating to professionalism. I will share three as he presented them, that is, directed to employment lawyers, but each is easily adaptable to other professions. Each strikes me as a sound lesson of good behavior

Be proud when you help another employment lawyer. Be all the prouder when you ask another lawyer for help.

Lawyers of the highest ethical standards never mention it.

There will be adversaries you dislike – don’t let that affect your tactics, judgment or ethics.

The most admirable lawyers do solid work every day, not dazzling work occasionally.

One of the other comments Judge Bennett made that resonated had to do with the importance of communication. He quoted George Bernard Shaw that the “single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” and talked about the fact that lawyers on opposing sides no longer speak to each other. In the early days of his own practice, upon taking a case and learning who his opposing counsel would be, he always called the person. Tried to iron things out. Saw what could be dealt with by agreement before any judges or other third parties were involved. Today, he lamented, that doesn’t happen. The predictable result is longer disputes, more animosity and more cost. The lesson from that is pretty clear.


God Speaks. Do we Listen?

As part of my morning prayer, I was reading a reflection by Joyce Meyer that made a very simple point, but one of which we need to be periodically reminded: God speaks to us all the time.

The reality is that our God is a self-communicating God. God desires communication with us and speaks to us continually, revealing God’s presence in various ways.

Our task is to recognize that God is speaking to us. What distinguishes those to whom we give the label “mystics” from the rest of us is not that they had a direct experience of God that is available only to a few. It is not that God chooses certain people to speak to and doesn’t speak to the rest of us. God speaks to all of us – incessantly. The mystics are not special because God spoke to them and not to us. What makes the mystics special is their openness to experiencing God and their recognition of God’s communication with them

And to be open to experience God, to be able to recognize God, requires prayer. Prayer is not about getting God’s attention. Rather, prayer helps us to be aware of God’s presence already here.

Too often we fill our prayer with our desires, with our agenda, without giving God a chance to speak to us. Our attitude must more and more reflect the words of Samuel: “Speak, God, your servant is listening.” And we need to listen, with our whole being, and to pause, to linger, to wait for God to speak to us.

Sometimes God reveals Godself to us in dramatic, almost visible ways, akin to the blinding lightening-like flash experienced by Saul/Paul. But more often, God seems to speak to us in the quiet whisperings of our heart. So we need to allow ourselves the quiet and stillness to hear God no matter how softly God speaks to us.

The Relief of “Said and Done”

Someone with whom I am very close finally had an overdue conversation with someone and said some things that really needed saying.  Afterwards her relief was written all over her face and could be heard in her voice.  It was good, she realized, to finally have it said and done.

 Something about a relationship is not working out well for one or the other person.  Or something stands between two married people or two friends or two family members.  Maybe something one person said is stuck in the other’s craw and blocking everything else out.

It is almost always the case in such situations that something needs to be said between the two people involved if a relationship is to be preserved and have a chance of flourishing.  The cost of not speaking is high.  A stuck relationship going nowhere.  Anxiety, awkwardness between the two persons, and ultimately the risk of resentment and permanent damage to the relationship and serious pain to one or both of the two people involved.   

Yet we so often hesitate to say to the other person things that need to be said in such situations.  We worry we might hurt their feelings.  Or we don’t want to risk them getting angry with us.  Or we become concerned with what other people will think if they knew we feel a certain way.

But the thing is, the fear and worry is often far worse than the reality.  When we finally say what we have to say – assuming we manage to say what we need to with love and sensitivity – the relationship can go on, can get unstuck from the muck in which it was mired, and can grow. 

Said and done can bring a lot of relief.