On Caring by Milton Mayerhoff is one of the most personally important and impactful books that I have ever read, and probably will ever read. It is a summary and explanation of what it means to care for oneself and others, both philosophically and practically.
I had been practicing law for over a decade before I found the book. But, one particular passage succinctly described the guiding principle that I had developed for my representation of, and caring for, clients:
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To my mind, this passage is the foundation for effectively helping clients through a divorce. Some attorneys have trouble allowing clients to make their own decisions, and feel compelled to “guide” clients to making whatever decision the attorney himself would make in that situation.
And, while it is not always easy, remembering that a client’s decisions are hers to make and not my own, is the key to effectively helping her make those decisions. And, that, so far as I have come to understand it, is the key to truly caring for clients.
When I care for an adult…I try to avoid making decisions for him. I help him make his own decisions by providing information, suggesting alternatives, and pointing out possible consequences, but all along I realize that they are his decisions to make and not my own.
Working in Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) a region renowned for its education level, I have the privilege of working with a lot of very smart people. Doctors, professors, business executives, entrepreneurs, nurses, techies, and domestic geniuses all bring healthy IQ’s to the collaborative divorce conference, mediation or negotiating table.
Certainly raw intelligence helps in a divorce. The ability to learn, process and analyze complex legal issues and numbers is immensely helpful to efficiently resolving a divorce.
But, in my experience, it pales in comparison to the ability to recognize, understand, process and deftly handle the emotional component of divorce, both in yourself and in your spouse.
Left brain = logical thinking
Right brain = emotional thinking
I often have conversations with clients about “catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Angry people are not very generous or considerate. So, if you can try not to anger your spouse in a divorce negotiation, then your outcome is almost always going to be better.
This short musing inspired by Richard Pryor makes the point nicely, I think.
When trying to influence someone, as in a divorce negotiation, respect and politesse go a long way.