Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Living On

Recently, a beloved member of the Buffalo running community passed away unexpectedly. Thomas Donnelly was a genuine leader, filling the role of President of WNY's largest running club, Checkers AC, as well as acting as Race Director for the Buffalo Marathon and the annual Turkey Trot race at the time of his death. He had an incredible energy and touched many lives with his enthusiasm. 

Listening to the praise that is all around me given to him, for the moments in his life, great and small, I feel surrounded by a chorus of beautiful grief. I feel fortunate to be able to raise a glass and a voice in such a number as this-- people who have together admired a great leader, who share an appreciation for the beauty of small moments shared with a single life that, like a wine glass that slips out of a hand at a party, spilled itself out unexpectedly.

Tom is not yet gone, as we all will be one day. So much of who we are even while we are living is contained in the people who know us and love us. We do not exist within the confines of our own bodies. Babies who are not nurtured with frequent touch die. We are born into bodies that seek connection with other people. It is the nature of our spirits to spread out, to exist primarily in the connections that we intuitively forge with other receptive souls. We are mostly spirit. So it makes sense that when we pass on, only the part of us that existed in that body goes. The part that was alive in other people lives on as long as they do.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Only a Mother

Even a mother's love is not insatiable to the point
Where she doesn't crave a lonely hour to sit at the edge of a pond,
Where her role in the ecosystem of interdependent needs
Is limited to the few drops of blood she might spare to a mosquito.

Her steps down the forest path draw a ripple of disturbance
In the birdsong that closes behind her,
Her long hours of creeping out of nurseries
Having taught her the role of quiet in sustaining life.

She must bear witness, now and then,
To the enduring, patient indifference with which
The earth mothers her constant offspring.

Only then will her mind close properly on a day
Full of needs she hasn't quite been fit to fill,
Despite her constant search for the right tune

To close the rift in birdsong caused
By her children's overzealous attempts
To seize that which they frighten away.

Whether her soul's piper ever stumbles upon the magic notes
To ease her children's way through life or not,
There will abide, at least, she hopes, this quiet.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Withholding Praise

I like to compliment people. I like to see the good in them, particularly if it is not obvious, and point it out to them. But just as often, when I am not in the mindset to search out such things, I will feel a sudden admiration for another person and reflexively withhold that praise. I'm not sure why I do that.

Sometimes the people whom I choose not to praise are rivals in some way, or people with whom I compare myself unfavorably, so the most obvious motive for withholding praise is jealousy or self-doubt. But I find it's often something I do with people whom I do not envy at all. Perhaps it is merely inconvenient to offer the praise, or may require creative energy which I lack. But there is something more to it-- a reason deeper than all of these easy ones-- that holds me back. I think that the praise I most often withhold is the most sincere. It is the goodness I notice in others which touches me the most deeply. Goodness that stirs me and makes me feel bare to acknowledge. To offer such praise is self-revelatory. It is an offering. To share it requires courage. Yet I have found that praise offered in this spirit is of the kind that can break down barriers between people. It is powerful. It is a deep recognition of our mutual humanity. Offered to a rival, it is humbling to both-- confusing, warm and comforting.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So often the wonder and beauty and raw power that we envy in our rivals is precisely the thing we wish to own within ourselves, and feel lacking. We fear that to praise it in another will point up its absence in ourselves. But instead, praising it has the opposite effect of making us seem to possess it too-- or perhaps, it even causes us to possess it. At the very least, it acknowledges the love that is at the core of envy-- love of virtue, hatred of its lack within ourselves.

What we love in others we can draw into ourselves through open praise. What we praise, we attract. When we envy, we confuse our self-loathing for other-loathing. When we love, we bring our love of others into ourselves.

So the point is: whenever you admire something deeply in another person, and feel the impulse to conceal that admiration, that apprehension is the hallmark of sincerity, and should instead prompt you to give expression to the admiration so that it can flower into the fullness of love for self and others, rather than turning into envy and self-loathing. For such love has at its root the same impulse as its opposite: that soul-bearing appreciation of virtues which we recognize in others and lack in ourselves. These are opportunities to learn, grow, expand, and become more. Yet so many times we instead treat these as occasions to retract, shrink, hide, and lessen ourselves.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Layering Experiences

The brain craves a certain layering of experience. I notice it most in complex decision-making. Human beings excel at tasks that require us to combine concurrent sets of observations into a single course of action. For example, navigating using a map requires the navigator to both chart a course based on the world as depicted on the map and to compare that with the real external world as he is moving through it. The destination is only reached when the two align. This type of analysis is common to almost any learned profession: doctors and nurses compare a patient's physical symptoms to his mental catalogue of ailments; a lawyer applies a body of laws to the facts of a client's case; an engineer creates machinery by combining his understanding of physical principles to the materials at his disposal in order to create useful tools and structures.

Complex decision-making requires mental dexterity, the ability to hop back and forth between gauging the status of the current situation, assessing the available outcomes, and choosing the course of action required to reach the optimal result. Any endeavor that requires this type of thinking yields, when properly executed, inherently rewarding results. And half of the reward is the navigation process itself. When we practice complex decision-making, our brains feel fully engaged; we are not bored.

We do something similar with aesthetic experiences. When we go out to dinner, we want not just excellent food but a good ambiance, which includes music and lighting, and we hope for good conversation with our companions. We prefer to relax in environments which stimulate several senses. These experiences get layered on top of one another and act to more fully engage us.

When we find ourselves in environments where we lack sufficient layers to experience, we feel uncomfortable or often, bored. Our brains are not being fully used. So often now, when we have that feeling, we reach for our phones or computers. These offer immediate engagement, an additional layer (or several) to our experience. I am concerned, however, that:

1. The constant availability of easy relief from even the smallest amount of boredom, such as during a five minute wait in the grocery store aisle, distracts us from finding other layers to experience which are also available but less obvious, such as noticing details in the environment, engaging in conversation with strangers, letting our minds wander and turn over problems in our subconscious, re-considering what someone meant when we spoke to them earlier, recalling a childhood memory or a comic's one-liner, or even rehearsing a to-do list for when we get home.

2. The same devices which we use to alleviate our boredom also create our boredom. The phone that we pick up to text on while we're driving and bored is the same device that made it easy to thoughtlessly navigate to a new destination using a GPS during that same trip. Instead of becoming bored and deciding to look at the phone while driving, we could have skipped the phone all together and spent our mental energy figuring out how to get where we were going. This reminds me of a lesson I slowly learned when my children were very small: that there was no use rushing through playing with them and then ending up having to figure out something else to do. It was easier and better for all of us if I submitted to their slower pace and let their games fill up the hours instead of following my own internal metronome and rushing to conclude activities only to have to figure out a new activity. Something in us wants to get things done as quickly as possible even when doing so means we will be bored when we're done. Our technology makes it all too easy to do this, and then offers a shallow substitute for the experience we could have had without it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Long Answer

I think I need to find a new way to answer legal questions that are posed to me verbally. Usually my approach is to give the two second, cut to the chase answer followed by the back-story: it's the journalistic approach. The problem with that approach is that approximately 50% of people treat my answers the way they treat news articles. They stop listening at the third paragraph. I'm going to start framing my answers more like a history book, opening up by telling a story that people will get hooked into and interested in, and not providing the quick answer until the end. Because it's really important to hear the long answer.

What is the quick answer? The quick answer is often yes or no; it is often, "Yes, the regulations permit it," or "There's a memo on that." It's often the type of answer you could get from a Google search. It is expedient, and may be all that is needed to push the client file to the side of the desk and get on to the next case.

What is the long answer? The long answer is the history of an idea. It plunges down to where the concept entered legal thinking, and traces its explication through various agencies and case law, through memos and administrations and wrong turns, errors and clarifications. Knowing the long answer is like walking into a small world in which you can move around and animate things. It gives context and depth to your analysis. And it is absolutely prerequisite to applying the law to a person's life.

It's not good enough to only know the quick answer-- not for an attorney and not for a client either. Even though it will produce the right result 9 times out of 10, without full understanding, it may do so for the wrong reason. And in that 1 case out of 10, the quick and apparently correct answer will be absolutely wrong. It's never right to be right without understanding why.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wedding Sonnet

-- for Scott & Denise

Of all the world which we choose to forsake

In cleaving only to each other's flesh, Some few may understand the loss that they Have suffered rightly at our love's expense--
For they may glimpse the treasures that we keep In heart and mind and which we now commit To shore up jointly to our joint increase As we all other such riches forfeit.
But lest the world feel unduly deprived, Let it be known to all who treasure seek That all we have, when joined, is multiplied And is too much for us alone to keep.
What love demands in exclusivity It gives back to the world as joy and peace.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Out of Context

I recently had the experience of coming down with strep throat for the second time in two months. After reading that some people get recurring strep due contracting to an antibiotic resistant strain of the bacteria, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of going to the doctor, I self-medicated using essential oils. I gargled hourly with oregano and lemon and made another concoction that I took on a regular basis as well. I was admittedly skeptical of the oils, and would have gone to a doctor if I hadn't experienced relief. I had only ever used the oils for softer applications like mood regulation or blister healing, thinking that at the very least, they smell good and can't hurt me. But this was the first time I had tried them for something where it would be obvious whether they had been effective or not.

I was fairly amazed by the results of my experiment. (And just in case you're wondering, I do not sell these oils so this is not a commercial). They cured my strep completely within 48 hours, to the point where I was able to go for an easy run. Not only did they cure me faster than antibiotics had, but they also relieved my symptoms much more effectively in the meantime. I would feel immediate relief each time I used them.

I like the concept of using the oils. They are super concentrated extractions of naturally occurring plant oils. Many of the medications we commonly use are plant derived. For example, salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, was first extracted from the bark of a willow tree. People used to make tea from the bark because they found it reduced fever. Then chemists eventually isolated the active ingredient and devised more efficient ways of synthesizing it and it became a pharmaceutical product. Western medicine is very fond of extracting the chemical compounds that have been proven to be clinically effective in treating illness, and using them out of context of the compounds with which they naturally occur. There is a certain genius to this process, a genius that has extended our lifespans tremendously. But there is also a certain hubris inherent in this approach which ignores the fact that many of the compounds co-occuring with those we have isolated and tested may serve a supporting role to the active compound, or may be active themselves in ways we have not yet thought to test. Nature may not have been mistaken in failing to sprout Tylenol pills on trees.

The Western mind is full of this bias-- the bias of isolating and emphasizing that which we have proven to be effective, while shearing it of its natural context. Another example that springs readily to mind is the way that we have developed exercise machinery that targets a specific muscle or group of muscles. When you lift free weights, your engage a wide range of supporting muscles which, though they are not the target of your specific strength training, nevertheless become strong and toned. Weight machines, on the other hand, may reduce the risk of injury inherent in poor form, but they do so at the expense of all of those supporting muscles.

The same bias is perhaps nowhere more evident than in our public policy. Bush's deeply flawed "No Child Left Behind" policy attempts to apply this way of thinking to the education of children, supposing
that teaching methods are something that can be extracted from the classroom and proven through standardized testing. The policy overlooks the rich milieu of the classroom and the extremely complicated set of variables that determines what a child will score on a test on a given day. It is not a teaching method alone that predicts this result.

The Scientific Method is an amazing tool that has yielded a wealth of verifiable knowledge which has made all of our lives easier and better. When properly understood and applied, it also encourages a deep humility, for it forces its adherents to admit continually what they do not know. This is a limited type of humility, however. Wisdom requires something more than simply admitting what we have failed to verify by subjecting our intuitions to rigorous scrutiny. It requires recognition that the manner in which some things have naturally occurred or organically developed have an internal coherence that defies our splitting it up and studying the parts. It requires the admission that we do not know how such things came into being. It is a humility that allows us to recognize the bounty of what we have inherited as denizens of the earth rather than simply shaking our heads at what we have failed, as yet, to create.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Priory

Pacing the perimeter of crumbling stone,
I see the priory distilled
Down to the bones of its bare form--
All the prayers of its foundation
Now relinquished to the earth,
Along with stone upon stone,
Borrowed and returned.

We scour the earth to find such clues.
The older they are, the more we intuit
That they are our future--
Our quiet acceptance
Of the knowledge we inherit
That our end is our beginning,
Even though we often fear it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Runner vs. Hiker Mentality

A couple of weeks ago, my line lit up at the office, igniting at once my I-can-analyze-anything fire, when I picked up to a shaky voiced man who informed me that his boss, who I've worked with for years, suddenly passed away. I am new enough in my practice that I have not experienced the death of too many clients, but I was struck dumb with a strange grief. I know my clients in such a passing way, based on the most formal self-presentations of their lives. But in a way, that's extremely intimate. And when I am sitting next to a person at the border whose livelihood is on the line, they seek a motherly comfort, and I give what I know how to give: spirited distraction and calm reassurance. They go hand in hand.

The man who passed away was someone who I'd gotten stuck with at the border only a matter of months before his death as we waited for his application to be processed. We were there for a couple of hours, and he had filled me with visions of his hiking trips in the mountains, his children studying abroad, and the way he viewed the concerns of the next generation of employees. Most of all, I remember him talking about the need to respect nature's limits. As a hiker, his principal concern was being prepared: having enough hydration, considering fluctuations in temperature, knowing the terrain. All you have when you hike is yourself-- what you prepared beforehand and what you can figure out to meet your needs as you go. He talked about a Boston Marathoner who had died hiking the Grand Canyon because she had not hydrated properly. And I remember commenting at the time that there's a huge difference between a runner mentality- of continuing to push when your body is at its limits- and a hiker mentality- of respecting nature's limitations-- that I understood why the runner was not prepared for the change of mentality required by those conditions. He told other stories too, illustrating that same point about the need to respect your limits.

This man had immigrated to Canada as a small child from a poor country and he acquired his wealth gradually. He was the President of a very successful company. And he spoke of how gradually he accumulated his wealth, how he never spent outside of his means. He expressed surprise at the largesse of his younger generation of employees, that he would go to their houses and they would be completely furnished after only working in a good paying professional job for a couple of years.

He was all about living within your limits and when he practiced that philosophy, his life brought him riches he never expected. And then, he died quite young. He was only 54. I couldn't bring myself to ask for any details of his death but I assume that it was a disease, perhaps cancer.

I received the call informing me of his passing not too long before I completed my first marathon, in May 2014. It has now been a month since the marathon and I am gradually regaining my strength. Every run feels like a failure of will. And then I remember the hiker mentality. I need that too-- I need to wait on my body, work within its limitations. This is exactly the opposite of my natural inclination. But I have never loved anything without loving its opposite.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shunning the Beautiful

It is no secret that feminine beauty carries unique weight in our culture, affecting a woman's prospects in her career, in love, in her friendships, in her potential for fame. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, neither ugly nor particularly beautiful. But even within that vast middle realm, there is a wide spectrum. I've had the somewhat unique experience of traversing that middle realm, having been much less attractive in my youth than I was lucky enough to mysteriously become in middle age. So I have some experience with both ends of the spectrum. But I have never been extremely beautiful, and that is a state which is both a blessing and a curse.

I've always avoided the extremely beautiful-- both men and women-- feeling no attraction whatsoever for those men with square jaws, piercing eyes and cut... things. Likewise, I've never wanted to befriend beautiful women. In both cases, I once assumed that I was invisible to these celestial creatures, and treated them as being similarly invisible, meanwhile comparing myself to these women as a yardstick for my own achievements. I would sharpen my achievements against theirs, failing to outwardly acknowledge anything they had achieved. I think this response is common, and I think it is mean.

It has only dawned on me in recent years that this response is harmful, not only to me but to the people whom I have treated this way. The beautiful attract so much of our hatred and so little of our guilt for the same. But imagine for a second what it would be like for people to respond to you in this way from your earliest memories-- for people to always be sharpening their talents against yours, for people always to be seeking to prove themselves your superior in some small (or great) way, and simultaneously to see the backs of these competitors' heads as they turn away from you every time you walk into a room.

It's become apparent to me that the beautiful are treated, in many respects, as ill as the ugly, that their very appearance attracts undue attention, and that even kindness, to them, is often thinly concealing a dagger.

I think it is encumbent upon us, as women, to go to great lengths to show kindness to those other women whose beauty cows us, to be as kind to them as we would to anyone else who needs our help-- in a transparent and simple way. Competition is not helpful to any of us if it is not infused with kindness, grace, and humor.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Familiar Comfort of Discomfort

It seems to be a law of nature, or at least of human nature, that a certain level of discomfort is essential to our comfort. We go to great lengths to keep our sense of discomfort at the proper level (somewhat like setting a thermostat), and that level seems to be set innately at a different place for different people. Just as we can maintain the temperature of our homes regardless of the weather that rages or languidly warms us outside, so we engineer the comfort level of our souls to a set degree regardless of the ease or difficulty of our circumstances.

I have noticed in my own life, for example, that I maintain set levels of discomfort where finances and sport are concerned. Over the course of my adulthood, my income has gradually increased and with it, my standard of living. Nevertheless, I continue to increase my expenditures proportionately such that my overall sense of how well I'm doing at covering my expenses is roughly the same; I keep up with it all in the same manner regardless of the amount.

Similarly, I have always gone running on a regular basis, and yet my penchant to do so has evolved from an occasionally habitual streak of running (with the vague notion that if I failed to do it in my youth, I would never do it), to regimented training arcs that correspond to well-defined goals. The difficulty with which I used to complete a two mile jaunt around the block and with which I completed my last 20-miler for marathon training today is, however, roughly the same. I marshal all of my efforts until the goal is achieved and then the next goal must be more difficult so that I can maintain the same sense of satisfaction in accomplishing it.

Examples of this phenomenon abound. Recent research into the science of weight loss has yielded up the theory that the body maintains a set level of body fat through various physiological mechanisms which seek to maintain the status quo. (http://www.academia.edu/497061/The_Concept_of_a_Body_Fat_SetPoint). Even when people carry an unhealthy amount of weight, their bodies seek to maintain that set level of fat. A similar phenomenon occurs in the brains of drug addicts, whose minds reinforce addictive behavior.

When we feel discomfort, we so often point to the circumstances of our lives when really, they are just the materials with which our souls reinforce their habituated state. So much could fail, so many of the materials that, by remarkable chance, populate our lives, could fall away and we would still preserve roughly the same outlook, the same level of comfort and discomfort.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Recovering Repressed Memories

Once in the basement of a friend's home, when I was in my middle 20s, we watched the movie Magnolia. One of the characters is a TV game show host and the father of young coke head. Toward the end of the film, and toward the end of his life, this man's wife asks him if he abused their daughter when she was young. He breaks down in tears, saying, "I don't remember," which is essentially his confession.

At that moment, it was as though a black box opened in my mind and I recalled a memory that had never before been in my conscious awareness. It was a memory from my teenage years, or a fragment of one. It was so vivid, I re-lived it in those dark moments. (Still when I call it to mind, I live it more than remember it. It is probably my most vivid memory). It was not a memory of actual abuse but seemed to be the prelude to it.

That memory surfaced over a decade ago, and to this day, I have never recalled anything more, either about the events surrounding that partial memory or about other times. But even the small event that I did recall was fairly life altering.

I have read everything available on the internet about repressed memories, and they are a hot topic of debate. I understand the fear that such memories could be planted by well-meaning but misguided professionals. People are suggestible. But that is not what happened to me. My memory surfaced on its own. I have tried to remember more, but eventually gave up on pressing myself. My mind knew when it was safe for me to remember the bit I did recall, once I was far enough removed from the situation. If there is more-- and I am pretty sure there is-- it will come in its own time, if at all.

Whenever I do probe that memory, I feel as though I am standing at the rim of a great abyss. The idea of a black hole comes to mind-- those graveyards into which massive stars fall to have their sleep when they have burned out, and into which all sorts of things may be sucked, never to emerge. It's impossible to determine what, if anything, transpires beyond the "event horizon" of black holes. And so repressed memories seem to me-- a dark horizon beyond which the truth cannot be discerned. Such black holes are thought to be the massive objects around which galaxies find their orbit. They are weighty enough in their lack to hold many other things at constant bay, in fixed relation to them.

This memory has been my well-guarded secret for a long time, revealed only to a very few trusted friends. But the older I get, the more I see that the things we all feel compelled to keep secret, and which seem to set us apart from others, are in fact some of the most universal experiences. Also, anything kept secret is given power, and this experience does not deserve that.  And so, I am putting my experience into the collective ether of the internet for those who are searching, as I have, for words to put to a part of the human experience that is starved for language, understanding and insight.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Will Work for Hugs

After a recent naturalization interview, my client gave me a big hug and thanked me for everything, and invited me to her oath ceremony. It felt so good to have become a small, positive part of her life that I decided I'm going to try to see how many clients I can get to hug me. When the idea first occurred to me to work for hugs, it seemed really silly. Then I realized that clients only hug their lawyers if two things happen:

1. They win their case; and
2. They show that they care about the person as a person, and not just as a client.

Most lawyers try really hard for #1 but not always for #2. I'm going to work really hard at both, and I am starting a client hug tally.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Waking Up

My eyes flutter open to the darkness
As I wake up in the habit of my species,
Carving a morning out of nature's long sleep
With rote activity.

But this is the first day of the year when,
Stepping out into the gray hours,
A hundred wings invisible to me
Are fluttering as the birds,
Who in the habit of their species have returned,
Begin to carve their songs into the morning.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Space to Play

My six-year-old recently asked me if being a grown-up was very boring because you never get to play. I explained that some grown ups don't play any more but that most of us do it all the time; it just looks different. We talked about what is the most fun kind of playing, and agreed that it's those times where you come up with an idea to do something that you end up doing for a really long time and it seems like you are in another world while you're doing it. You get lost in your imagination. Kids instinctively look for those experiences through play; they tirelessly try new activities until they hit on something that's absorbing. They are always looking to lose themselves. I think we do the same thing as grown-ups, with work, relationships, and hobbies. But we tire more easily and accept mindless substitutes and mental shortcuts more readily. If we become accustomed to accepting those substitutes too regularly and make them our daily habits, we begin to lose our ability to play, but we don't need to.

One of the keys to maintaining that sense of imagination and playfulness is maintaining a certain amount of detachment from your own life. There is a series of wonderful images in the Tao Te Ching that has always stuck with me:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful. ...

I think of the details of my life as necessary structures to house what is really its essence, and like I am always working on hollowing out the spaces in my daily routine to give space for reflection and creativity. It is only when I make the space to play inside of these activities that my genuine self can infuse them. But by infusing them, they still never become any more permanent or irreplaceable.

It's important to recognize that the shape of my daily life and all of the people and activities that populate it are just one of an infinite array of possibilities, and that as pieces of the structure inevitably fade or wear away and need to be replaced, what is important to remaining vital is that whatever life's circumstances may be, I can always craft them into a shape in which they provide a structure, however rich or shabby, with enough space in it that I can still play. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Helping Competitors

I tend to gravitate toward competitive pursuits. I practice law and I run races. I like to push myself toward becoming continually better at both, and I also like the feeling of beating out my competition. But I also truly love my competitors and consider them some of my best friends. The better they are or the more they excel in a way I haven't considered, the more I admire and want to learn from them. But I don't just want to learn from them so I can beat them. I also want to encourage and help them. I want to help everyone achieve their personal best in these endeavors and I truly rejoice with those who do, even when it means they outstrip me. Why?

I think that everyone has a certain amount of potential in any given endeavor and that when everyone reaches their full potential, we all do better. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. The individual successes of anyone who pursues an activity elevates the prestige of the entire field. When a runner does something amazing and a newspaper picks up the story, anyone associated with running feels a personal connection to the story and participates in the good feelings as they read it and as people who they know discuss it.

2. There are very few people who are capable of making true innovations in any field. Those people change the entire future of the field for those who follow. I personally want to create an environment in which the Einsteins of my profession can push the boundaries forward, even if that does not happen to be me.

There are other, practical reasons for helping competitors to succeed. First, helping others exposes you to solving problems that you have not yet encountered and helps to prepare you to meet them when they arise. I frequently talk other attorneys through difficult cases and as I do so, I often encounter fact patterns that I have not seen in my own practice. This gives me the opportunity to learn as I teach. Second, by virtue of helping others, I become seen as a leader in the field (which often means that other attorneys refer cases to me that are too difficult for them to handle). Third, by helping other attorneys, I help to prevent their malpractice, which again elevates the entire profession. (Who wants to be associated with a field in which there is a public outcry against professional incompetence?)

I often encounter people who treat competitive pursuits as a zero sum game in which all spoils go to the victor. But I have never experienced more camaraderie than among those fields in which sportsmanlike competition is involved. True competition is a group endeavor in which a group of very talented, skilled people work together to push every individual to their personal best.