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Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: The Last Holdout

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
“If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other – while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity – then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do – even using so-called good human relations techniques – will be perceived as manipulative. – Stephen Covey, American author and educator (1932-2012)
I have a character flaw, at least, I think it may be a character flaw. I am the last holdout in voicing my public opinion when it relates to a public figure being involved in doing something wrong. Maybe I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, or maybe I want to believe that people really are good at heart and that the world is progressing in terms of truly being civilized. Maybe I want to be absolutely certain of the truth before I cast my vote to ruin someone’s career, reputation, and influence. Maybe I want to be careful not to form an opinion that will negatively impact or otherwise cast undue aspersions on other possibly innocent people.

I was probably the last person to accept the Clinton-Lewinsky “affair.” I just could not wrap my head around the fact that someone with such important responsibilities to so many people in the country and the world would take the risk of ruining his marriage, his reputation, his influence, and almost his job, for doing something incredibly stupid, in my opinion. I could not fathom that someone in his position would lack good sense and would take such a stupid risk for such a stupid return. I apologize for my strong language here, but I really do think the whole affair was so stupid as to deserve strong ridicule. I was embarrassed to finally accept that I was wrong, that someone really could make such a stupid decision. I still shake my head over that one.

Then there was the O. J. Simpson saga. I remember watching the police chase him down one of the LA freeways, and I kept urging through the television to back off and give him space. I know people who do not respond well when under the slightest pressure, and having police chase you down freeways that have been emptied and closed off from the public represents an incredible amount of pressure. Give him space, I thought. Give him a chance to think without pressure so that he will stop running away. Of course, we all know how that story ultimately turned out in the end after endless legal battles in the criminal and civil arenas, and again I have to shake my head at myself for wanting things to turn out differently, for wanting to believe that someone was innocent of doing something that would seriously impact his children’s lives in a heart-rending way.

Then there are the events of this past week and the past year with Lance Armstrong. Again I held off from voicing my opinion or even forming an opinion. How could someone ruin his life and the lives of others in such a large way? How can this thing be so big and escape public notice for such a long time? In my defense, as an attorney I can understand how it is possible to make a decision to give up in order to get rid of a nuisance. In fact, lawyers nickname these sorts of cases “nuisance suits,” where a suit is brought against a company or other large entity or public figure for the purpose of gaining money, because the company may determine that it makes more business sense to pay off the suit rather than take it to a final decision in court. So I understood why Mr. Armstrong could finally give up the battle of clearing himself from all the charges leveled against him that had no backing in terms of showing that he had actually tested positive for doping. I could believe for the better that Armstrong was tired of the struggle and it made more sense to him to make it stop.

I was alright with that decision, although it saddened me that he had to give up so much of his life’s work in exchange for making this decision: stripped of his titles, his awards, his money. Then one day a friend strongly expressed an angry opinion about Armstrong’s ex-wife and her still writing for a big name running magazine, and I realized that with Armstrong’s giving up the battle, he also opened the door for many others in the world to be painted over by the same brush that had shadowed Armstrong. That seemed unfair to me, that Armstrong’s decision would impact negatively on so many others. I struggled with the entire issue and with what to believe was the actual truth of the matter.

Then the events of this week and the last occurred, when Armstrong was quoted in the media as considering an admittance of guilt so that he could be permitted to compete again. Then the actual admittance occurred on national television. The trial balloon disturbed me, because that was so obviously what it was – a test to see what public opinion would be. I was horrified to hear it. Then the actual event occurred with Oprah as the mediator. Will I never learn?

One of the first jokes we share in law school is the story of how a lawyer handles a lawsuit for a client whose dog bites someone. The lawyer makes these arguments:
  • The dog did not bite anyone (absolute denial).
  • The dog did not bite the other person (mistaken identity).
  • The client does not own the dog (standing to bring suit).
  • If the dog bit the other person, the other person deserved it (justification).
  • If the dog bit the other person, it was in self defense (self defense).
  • If the dog bit the other person, there was no harm done (remedy).
  • There was no dog.
  • Et cetera.
Lawyers can have fun with this. We can think up as many arguments as you have time to listen to them. The purpose of the exercise was to teach law students the process of forming arguments, and our current legal system allows the making of all of the arguments in the same case, although at some point, an attorney does need to focus the case in some way. And, of course, an attorney must be mindful of what a jury member (or judge) might think about the client because of the silliness of the attorney’s arguments.

So Armstrong was within his rights to make many of these types of arguments. However, the fact that he did so muddied the waters so much, that I believe his reputation will be completely ruined forever. Unfortunately, so will the reputations, influence, and lives of a great deal of other people, because Armstrong was quick to include “everybody” in his wrongdoing. I predict a lot of fall out from Armstrong’s announcement, and I expect that a great deal of time and energy will go into pursuing the final answer to this situation. I find it very sad when someone chooses to do something that causes him to fall a great distance, and I also find it to be tragic to take down a lot of other people in the process.

I enjoyed my years in the legal profession, because I enjoyed words. I learned a lot of great words and expressions, some of which are as elegant in logical construct as a Haydn symphony. Words and expressions like, “scintilla of evidence” and “appearance of impropriety” and "totality of the circumstances." Unfortunately for Armstrong, these same expressions came to my mind several times this past week as I fought against the whiplash effect created by his flitting around in the penumbra region.

Where am I going with all this? I started out this essay article by admitting that I had a character flaw in that I want to believe the best about people. I want to believe that people store up good fruit in their hearts. I want to believe that people actually are what they seem to be or what they say they are.

Whatever else goes wrong in the world, I will continue to hold on to this belief and expectation and to work tirelessly and unceasingly to influence the path of future generations in this direction. I will continue to work to change the world, one child at a time, one parent at a time. I will spend more time thinking about my life’s purpose and from this point on forget about the Clintons, Simpsons, and Armstrongs of the world.

Let me close this essay by repeating the quote with which I began, because I have been thinking long and hard about the message contained in these few sentences. I want to make sure that my decisions and choices lead me down a path that will be open and honest and provide a worthy contribution to the betterment of our society.
“If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other – while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity – then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do – even using so-called good human relations techniques – will be perceived as manipulative. – Stephen Covey, American author and educator (1932-2012)

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