It is “Greek” Easter. I’m home alone, and the lamb is in the oven. Scents of Greek seasoning waft throughout every nook and cranny of my small townhouse. As I do every year, I wonder if any of my children will continue the Greek traditions that I have established. The traditions were not present during my own upbringing until I took the initiative to embrace them when my now adult children were toddlers.
I recall the Easter lamb I cooked the year my father died and remember where we were in the kitchen as I took it out of the oven. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his ever present smile and a line of oxygen under his nose, attached to a portable oxygen tank. He was delighted that he would have Easter lamb, and it made me happy to make him happy. A few weeks later he would be moved into my own home to be monitored by me and his hospice nurses as he lived his last months. I’d had reservations about moving him in, as my children were adolescents and I wanted to shield them from the ugliness of death. But my Greek Orthodox priest convinced me it would be fine. “In Greece the cycle of life is very natural. Papou dies downstairs and a baby is born upstairs,” he’d said and he’d been right. I think back for a moment to the poignant goodbye around my father’s bedside with my mother, my children and me kissing him as he took his last breaths.
Dad’s mother, my grandmother Josephine, taught me to cook the lamb “the Greek way” which was interesting because she was full blooded Polish. Devoted to my grandfather and all things that made him happy, she was a better Greek cook than many of the full blooded Greeks I’ve known. I absolutely adored her and her kitchen always smelled like mine does now and I look at my hands working and in my heart’s eye I see her hands on tope of mine, guiding them.
Earlier in the week there’d been talk of my mother baking a ham this year, and a “we don’t want to inconvenience you” disingenuous pitch from those who will eat the lamb, greek style green beans, potatoes and salad with ample crumbled feta cheese. We go through this dance each year when we all know how the menu will pan out. Besides, my mother is not Greek and Easter to her side of the family means bunnies and bonnets. To Greeks, Pascha is the most important day of the year, the culmination of weeks of fasting and repentance and realigning ourselves to God and His mercy.
I check the lamb to see how it is coming along knowing that it will turn out perfectly as it always does. Although I don’t enjoy cooking as a rule, the traditional Easter dinner reminds me that I am an excellent cook and I wonder why I never dabble in it except on Pascha. There was a time I did enjoy cooking more, and as I tend to everything to synchronize the timing of the dishes I remember back to my short marriage to FP and the meals we would enjoy preparing together.
Although part Greek himself, FP wasn’t trained in Greek religious food preparation and I loved teaching him to make his first loaf of prosfora, the blessed bread we use as the body of Christ for communion. I watched him press the etched seal into the top of the fluffy powdery loaf we’d made, with the seal given to me by the 83 year old Greek Orthodox woman who had taught me when I was a young mother. “Pray for me every time you use this,” she’d said when she gifted me my first prosfora seal and I do pray for Marie every time, releasing the seal to observe the intricate religious design passed down for generations on the top of the holy bread.
FP had also never made the koliva, the memorial wheat that is traditionally used at memorial services for the dead. I taught him to make it in the first year we were married, before my father’s memorial service. FP and I had boiled the wheat berries and set them out on a pristeen white cloth to dry the night before the memorial, knowing we’d be mixing them early the next morning with the nuts, raisins, powdered sugar and the delicate pomegranate seeds that represent the blood of Christ. I’d left to run an errand and when I’d returned I saw FP had placed a vigil light next to the drying wheat berries along with a photo of my dad, and a photo of his own deceased grandmother. It touched me that he had made such a special memorial and I’d felt the presence of the Greek ancestors in our respective families joined together.
Later I would teach FP’s youngest daughter from his first marriage to make prosfora and I’d give her a seal asking her to pray for me each time she uses it. I’d also taught her to make koliva and I added the memorial shrine layout to the tradition as though it had always been a part.
As I put the finishing touches on the Easter lamb meal and set the table for the hungry family that will soon arrive, I feel tears welling up and an ache in my heart that is painful at the core. Perhaps it’s brought on by the fatigue I feel from being at long services throughout Greek Orthodox Holy Week. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep after midnight resurrection service. There is a deep mourning for my ancestors who always come to mind as the lamb bakes, and a clear and present sense of momentarily missing my ex husband despite our divorce being over six years prior, his remarriage, and a healing balm of forgiveness that has washed away the drama that separated us.
Rather than stuff down the emotion, I let the tears flow, and hum the tune “Christos Anesti,” –Christ is Risen, the traditional Greek song that we will sing victoriously in the upcoming weeks. Then I do what I strive to do each day, each hour, each minute. I turn my life over to the Resurrected Savior and surrender to His lead for this moment in time. For just this very moment, I trust through Him, that everything is as it should be.
This blog was originally published in December, 2012.It is sent out with love to women struggling with their first Christmas post-divorce. You are not alone.
The experts will tell you that you need a full year to recover from divorce. This is based partially on the fact that you have to go through all of the holidays once without your former spouse. Christmas was already a difficult time for me since my dad died a week before Christmas during my first marriage after I’d taken care of him as a hospice patient in my home for months. I remember putting him in a wheelchair from his bed in the guest room and wheeling him in to watch my children decorate the Christmas tree. After divorcing FP in October, the first post-divorce Christmas came quickly and I had to find a way to cope.
Wanting to put on a brave face, I decided to gather up my women friends and have a party. I sent out an email: “At this holiday time you always hear about the wise men but what about the wise women? I am inviting the wisest women I know to a ‘Women of Wisdom’ gathering at my home. My two daughters will be in attendance. Please come with two gifts for them: your best piece of wisdom and the one song they need on their iPod.” Continue reading
I used to be a take-no- prisoners litigator leading families to the arena (court) to shed blood, exploiting every conflict I could to “win” the case. I lived this mindset in my own divorce, spending years in blame and unforgiveness. Both circumstances took a toll on my life and my soul.
Somehow I “woke up.” I chose to forgive the father of my children and myself. I redesigned my law practice and became a peacemaker. I healed my life in mind, body and spirit and wrote a book encouraging other lawyers to do the same.
Now when clients come to my office we set goals for them and for their case. Suffering from betrayal, loss of love and loneliness, clients suggest goals of blame, revenge, hurt and pain. I redirect them, having a frank conversation with them about “the long game.”
The long game recognizes families are entwined for life, raising children post divorce. EVERYTHING THEY DO IN THE DIVORCE SETS A PATH FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. As their lawyer, I leave a legacy with my intervention. My client is either buoyed for dignity, forgiveness, respect and calmness or left to pick up the rubble of the destruction I leave behind.
Choices in the divorce must be suited for the long game. We discuss future family gatherings with the children and grandchildren such as graduations, weddings, and funerals. We envision the cost of the choice to blame, emphasize petty differences, or disparage their co-parent. Even if we have serious issues (substance abuse, domestic abuse, and other important issues that endanger children) we proceed with transparency, integrity and dignity for all, while firmly and wisely protecting the children. Clients insistent on “going low” are referred to another lawyer. As a result of this choice of practice, I sleep well and see lives transformed in my office every day.
In one case, my sad client whose wife had filed for divorce joined me in discussing the long game.(I represent equal numbers of men and women). He embraced the approach noting that he and the child’s mother were both good people and good parents. They’d both been there for prenatal care, and child’s dental and medical appointments. They’d both transported child to daycare, shared day to day parenting responsibilities and effectively made many joint decisions.
I called the lawyer on the other side to discuss the case.
“What are the problems with my guy having shared care?” I asked him, beginning to negotiate settlement.
“Nothing” he assured me. “My client is a first time anxious mom, wanting primary care. There is nothing wrong with your guy.”
We were optimistic about settlement when we went to mediation.
“They report nothing that would preclude shared parenting other than mom is anxious,” the mediator said in our private caucus, then adding “mom’s lawyer is strongly advocating against settlement.”
I wondered if the lawyer had abandoned seeking compromise and simply decided they would “earn their keep” by supporting mom’s anxiety based position. We were headed for temporary hearing.
In my jurisdiction temporary matters are decided on sworn affidavits. No testimony, no clients, and 10 minutes to plead the case across the desk to a judge with no court reporter. Affidavits are exchanged a moment before walking in to see the judge making the process “trial by ambush.”
My client and I prepared affidavits that supported our request for shared custody with coparenting from two good parents. My client’s parents signed affidavits supporting both parents and describing a future where the mother would continue to be welcome. We buyoed the long game.
“My wife asked me not to read the affidavits she and her lawyer prepared for the hearing until tomorrow and she is moving in with her parents over the weekend, ” my client stated as we met at the courthouse.
“Search your soul and tell me what you have forgotten until now; what’s the worst thing she can say and be brutally honest,” I asked my client as my anxiety spiked. No porn, no drugs, no mistress, no tax fraud, no domestic abuse. My puzzled client came up empty.
Outside the courtroom I handed opposing counsel our affidavits. “No surprises. High integrity on what we’ve said all along. Two good parents, history of calm waters.” My adversary shoved affidavits in my hand while looking down at his feet and shuffling towards the courtroom door.
Wife’s affidavit magnified every petty disagreement since the child’s conception describing my client as a “bully” giving wife emotional distress. Wife’s mother substantiated with an affidavit saying the same. Wife’s father noticeably did not join in.
My client held back tears. “We took the high road and she attacked despite what they have said all along. I feel betrayed again. I want a pound of flesh! What good did it do me to be high integrity?”
I left my law clerk to calm the client while I went in to argue my 10 minutes. The other attorney animatedly described my client to the judge as a bully, oppressive, mean to his wife. I calmly argued the facts; pre-natal care, child’s doctors appointments, daycare pickup, joint decisions. I pointed out wife’s affidavit was “she saids” while our evidence proved differently.
The judge granted wife primary physical care minimizing dad’s contact. “I will never trust her ever again, as long as I live,” my client said as we left the courthouse.
Thanking me for my work, my client said he had believed in the high road and the long game until he was blown up in battle. We agreed I’d transition him to a gladiator colleague equipped with depositions designed to embarrass his wife, highlight her after-discovered boyfriend (although fault is not relevant under the law), and engage in other aggressive tactics of war to win the final hearing. War that cost thousands of dollars of the child’s college savings money.
For a moment I second guessed my strategy. Did I just get out-lawyered? Did my adversary’s choice to lie about the case and hold back the evidence until the end make him the better lawyer? That lawyer now holds a permanent spot on my “untrustworthy” list where he’ll stay long after we both forget the two clients we represented that day.
When that moment passes I ‘m grateful that I provided my client and his family a chance for healing, dignity and respect. I dream of difficult conversations at the mediation that would have allowed for problem solving without venomous affidavits and court intervention. I pray for the family involved and for my young opposing counsel who may not see the toll such situations leave on the world, on a family and on his own soul over time.
And I ask, who “won?”
One of the most important relationships in my life has been working with my life coach. I began working with Paul when I was struggling with finding a sense of purpose. Was I really meant to be a lawyer? Or had I missed the mark for my destiny and just followed in the path opened by my lawyer-father?
Having taken a course from Paul based on his workbook The Extraordinary Power of A My Focused Life: A workbook for leaders who want to finish well I’d answered the question about my purpose. Yes, I was meant to be a lawyer. But that was only the first part of the answer. Once I’d confirmed my purpose what should I do next?
An epiphany came that I needed to write a book, and to write articles and blogs about compassion and spirituality issues, particularly for lawyers. The idea of writing a book was daunting and since I’d have to do it while simultaneously working in my busy law practice, I was sure it would never happen. So, I hired Paul to coach me. The Compassionate Lawyer was published in 2014 and I am editing a second book now.
I wonder now how I ever got along without a coach. Being thrilled with the impact coaching had on me, I took coaching training and have worked for the past few years in serving as a coach to others. Most of my coaching clients are lawyers and law students but I also coach divorcing people in how to find a lawyer and navigate the legal system in their divorce. My coaching practice is growing and it’s one of the favorite things I do.
What is coaching? Coaches listen intently to their clients, asking questions so the person being coached will be able to think more deeply. The client is then able to find solutions in a way that makes them feel empowered to take action. Unlike a mentor who gives advice, the coach controls the urge to tell people what to do and instead uses questions to draw out thoughts and ideas. In my coaching relationships we “do life together” in intentional scheduled conversations. Every conversation produces insights, discoveries and action steps.
Who can be a coach? As a lawyer I am a professional problem solver and as a “seasoned” lawyer I can draw from years of skills training and life experiences. That being said, I found the coaching skills training to be some of the most transformative training I have ever taken. It literally changed the way I operate in most all of my relationships. I found when I took to having conversations with my adult children from the coaching vantage point instead of as the intrusive mother, our relationships grew. While many people say they are a coach, it’s like saying you are a mediator. Anyone can label themselves this or a that, but without skills training they can be dangerous. The coaching title isn’t regulated so beware.
How is a coaching relationship structured? The structure and cost of each coaching relationship is different. Some of the people I coach meet with me once a month (in person or virtually) and send me weekly accountability emails. Some only structure meetings with no contact in between. Some have a defined term; with others we just check in regularly to see if the relationship is still fruitful. I have worked with my own coach for years meeting monthly, moving to biweekly coaching meetings during times of focused productivity or unexpected lethargy. I sent weekly accountability emails to him for years. Now I’ve moved to an occasional email between in person sessions. I cried and floundered during my first meetings and now come prepared with focused agenda items and action plans including a diagnosis of what I think went wrong for things that have not come to fruition. Each coach charges either an hourly or session rate, which may vary depending on circumstances.
What makes a good coaching relationship? The productivity goals are secondary for me, and the best byproduct of my work with Paul is how he points out areas of my personal growth and increased focus. For others who hire a coach, it may be all about finished work product. Each coaching relationship takes on it’s own personality. Some young lawyers I coach are in their own solo practices and enjoy having a more experienced lawyer helping them think through things. Other lawyers have productivity goals. Law students often need someone to help them with stress management and overcoming perfectionism. Experienced lawyers are often looking for more meaning in a stagnant law practice. While a lot of people leave the law during those times of restlessness, I am a proponent of helping lawyers stay in the law while finding ways to practice more authentically. My divorcing coaching clients are intimidated with the legal system, and want an experienced guide to walk alongside them that isn’t their own lawyer.
Why do I love being a coach? Every day in my legal practice I have to “fix” problems for my clients. As a coach, I don’t have to “fix” anyone or anything. I just have to hold space for people to feel safe enough to unearth what is inside of them. Being a coach inspires me to do better work in all my relationships, business and personal. For me, having a coach is like having another family member who is unconditionally in your corner even in your imperfections. I’ve had plenty of meetings with Paul bemoaning how I “botched things” and asking him to help me process how I would regroup. And when I received the Drake alumna of the year award Paul and his wife Leslie were there with me at he head table clapping and smiling. I feel the same sense of pride over the people I coach as I see them moving their lives forward in meaning and purpose, fully awake.
Is coaching for you? Let’s explore that question with no cost or obligation to “sign up.” I love connecting, whether we end up working together or not. Email me: email@example.com
“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”-Philo of Alexandria
In my love affair with perfectly foamed lattes, I’ve spent many happy days at Starbucks. When the children were small, my friend Laura and I would meet there every single day. I would have a latte, usually with nonfat milk, except when I went through my soy phase. Laura would have an Americana with room for cream.
The Phoenix area has a million Starbuck’s, so we would call each other (before texting was available) to coordinate which location was convenient for our meeting, based on our schedules. “I’m picking up the triplets at school early for a dental appointment,” she might say.
“I will be at the church, can we meet half way in between?” I’d respond, and for several years we accommodated each other without the slightest amount of stress.
“I need to go first today,” one of us would say once we sat down with our coffees. We poured out stressors and anxiety becoming each other’s amateur therapists. People are in disbelief that we only missed a handful of days over the course of several years, before I moved back to Iowa.
Our daily meetings grounded me during years where I was lonely because of a traveling husband, unsure how to raise kids, and yearning for my lawyer world during a period as stay at home mom. Laura could validate my feelings, tell me the kid’s coughs needed Robitussin and being a lawyer herself, explore the injustices of the OJ Simpson case based on an analysis of the evidence.
I supplied similar support to her as she raised triplets with her busy emergency room physician husband. By the time we finished our coffee and dashed to our respective mom mobiles to get back to our duties we were poised to face life with a fresh approach.
At our favorite Starbucks, Carl was the manager. Because we were regulars, it was like meeting another friend when he was working. When he transferred locations we moved our rendezvous to his new store whenever possible.
When I was divorced from my children’s father, I was in between jobs, having given up my status as VP of a California based mediation firm to try to save a failing marriage. Post-divorce I was left having to regroup to get a job in Scottsdale, and doors were not opening.
One day at coffee, I made a spontaneous inquiry of Carl. “Carl, would you ever hire me?”
Carl was puzzled knowing I was a lawyer, but also knowing Starbucks provided medical health benefits, which I needed. The next thing I knew I was handed a green apron and a post at a new Starbucks Carl was managing in a stylish part of Scottsdale.
The people I worked with had no clue I was a lawyer. I tried to keep that fact underground, partly from embarrassment that I was underemployed, and also to avoid getting asked for legal advice. I was just “Kim,” and I didn’t feel like I was being judged. Secretly I was “Kim, the lawyer who struggles to steam milk.”
My twenty-something coworker Maggie became my guide to the Starbuck’s world. Keeping up with a busy caffeine -seeking crowd, was not easy. Some customers were rude and impatient, some downright hateful, others were pleasant. Those who said hello, asked how I was getting along as the “newbie,” and called me by name were a joy. I was working hard, on my feet, trying to live up to Carl’s rigorous standards for a clean store, going home tired at the end of my shift, particularly on days when it had started at 5 a.m.
If I would gripe to Maggie she never engaged, but instead was always upbeat, expressing gratitude for her job. Maggie would often excuse herself abruptly for a bathroom break. I became curious as to why she would leave her work station so suddenly. Eventually I asked a coworker.
“Maggie has cancer,” he told me. “She is going through chemotherapy and leaves her post to get sick. She has to work to keep the insurance. Poor thing should be home in bed.”
I was shocked. Here I had been a prissy Scottsdale lawyer/mom who had thought I was so noble working at Starbucks. Right beside me was Maggie, struggling to survive. I eventually asked Maggie if there was anything I could do to help her. She seemed disappointed that her secret was out, and basically said “Thanks so much but I am fine. I enjoy working with you.” That was it.
The next morning when it was still dark, as I went in to open the store I saw Maggie getting off the bus. For the first time in my life, I was unable to know what to do to help someone. I decided the best thing I could do to honor her was to watch her humility up close and to learn to do something about my own ego based on her example.
A few mornings later a particularly obnoxious business woman came to the counter enraged, oblivious to the line packed tightly out the door. “You are out of cream!” she squealed. “Perhaps “you people” don’t know what it is like to be a busy executive needing to keep on your schedule! We get delayed by something that you should be taking care of!”
My initial instinct was to lash back saying: “I will have you know I am a lawyer and I doubt YOU are qualified to argue before the Supreme Court!” At the same time, I saw Maggie down the counter from me, smiling and selecting a pastry for a customer.
“I am so sorry ma’am, let me get you that cream right away,” I said instead, grabbing the decanter and filling it up. “I am sorry you were inconvenienced and I hope you have a wonderful day.”
Somehow I was able to channel what I’d learned from Maggie. And strangely, in the turn of a moment, I really did want the woman to have a wonderful day. For all I knew she was in a struggle of her own, unable to handle it with Maggie’s grace.
Eventually I left Starbucks and Arizona, resuming my law and mediation practice in Iowa. Leaving Laura’s friendship was devastating. I visit Arizona often and we always “do coffee” daily while I am there.
I ‘ve gone back to the Starbucks where I worked. It’s been totally remodeled. Carl is gone to stores unknown. Maggie is not there. I wonder if she is even alive.
Now, when I walk into a Starbucks I take a moment to look the barista in the eye, smile, make small talk and even call them by name. I do the same with the clerk at the grocery store and the cashier at the gas station. I know from my work at Starbucks that a little kindness makes all the difference.
And all of our lives, matter.
This post was originally published in 2013. My son Clint, age 23, has started working part time as a barista at Starbucks so it reminded me of this post. Welcome to the barista family son!
Let’s get this straight. There is no such thing as work/life balance.
When I hear the phrase “work/life balance” it elicits shame. I berate myself for intense and difficult spurts of work that leave me depleted, and also for vegging on the couch on a Netflix binge.
There’s a phrase that suits me better: “work life integration.” “Integration” seems more possible than “balance,” and produces a mental image of the scale swinging gently back and forth in easy flow, never tipping too far to one side or another. The swaying gives more grace for imperfection and seems more achievable than the tension of a perfectly balanced scale.I’d had a rough week in my work as a lawyer. Clients were stressed, several cases arrived concurrently at court deadlines, and I was a grouchy document drafting, fire-putter-outer. I knew the scale dance was woefully out of sync.
I reached out to one of my special girlfriends, Dr. J a wise and unconditionally supportive friend, bemoaning my need for re-calibration. Since she is also a physician she gave me a prescription. “Come to the farm and spend the day. It’s crucial for you to connect with nature.”
Her recommendation seemed underwhelming but then I took inventory. I’d been eating clean food, vigilantly engaging in my spiritual practice and getting 7-8 solid hours of sleep (sometimes falling into bed shortly after getting home from the office), but I was still out of whack. Since that usual list of de-railers was in tact, I decided to follow doctor’s orders.
I love it when God endorses a game plan as he so clearly did on the day I traveled to her farm in rural Iowa. The weather was perfect enough to put the top down on the convertible and I cranked classic rock tunes along the back roads through small Iowa towns and green fields eventually arriving at the farm.
My friend greeted me with a big hug, a glass of iced green tea, and a cozy rocking chair on the front porch with a front row seat to several hummingbird feeders in the nearby trees. We sat rocking, sipping our tea, watching and listening to an assortment of hummingbirds zipping around us. I remembered when I’d been a little girl and my grandfather had sat for hours watching birds and beckoning me, “Look Josie(his pet name for me), watch this one right here.” I’d thought he was boring, and I’d look at the bird mildly entertained never sitting very long.
That day at the farm, we sat in the quiet open spaces feeling the perfect breeze blow by, occasionally sharing things girlfriends share without interruption or distraction. At the suggestion of Dr. J’s partner “Good Dave” who was giving us girlfriend -bonding space, we strolled past the hens and baby chickens roaming in a vast corner of the farm. The rooster crowed and his voice was clear and strong and it thrilled me to experience the familiar cock-a-doodle-do happening live and in color. Dr. J often gifts me eggs these beauties lay and they taste wonderful and fresh and now I’d met the sources of this generous gift of nourishment.
“Take off your shoes,” Dr. J instructed as we reached another area of the farm, “and run your toes all through the grass being mindful and really feeling it,” she instructed.
“The therapeutic benefit of this is tremendous,” she insisted although the skeptic in me doubted. I’ve since found that “earthing” is real, and research shows the body draws electrons from the earth benefitting heart rate, immunity, blood viscosity, the endocrine and nervous systems.
We rocked and talked more, and eventually Good Dave left and brought us back a surprising lunch: bacon cheeseburgers and onion rings. Having my health guru there gave me permission to divert from my usual clean eating without guilt. The junk food was a reminder to not take myself so seriously that I missed the chance to have self- compassion when other areas of my life missed the mark of perfectionism. I felt my stress melting more rapidly then other go-to remedies.
After lunch we ventured out in what I called a “pimped out golf cart” parking next to the river deep in the woods nearby, where we simply watched the river run and listened to the water. My friend urged me to take a turn at the wheel when we got back to the farm and I did, driving all over with a stop to admire the vegetable garden. Ultimately we parked and walked to the farm pond throwing small pieces of bread into the water while groups of fish scurried to the crumbs in hopes of making a score. A bug eyed, green slimy pond frog pushed his head up out of the water striking a pose while I snapped a picture on my phone.
My trip to the farm had an incredible healing effect on my weary soul, dislodging it from it’s stuck position such that the gentle swaying back and forth of the scales was reinstated. I felt rested and whole for days after, even while dodging the demands of a high stress job. I was born and raised in Iowa and it took me until now to fully appreciate the healing effects of nature.
If only I’d sat and really watched those birds with my grandpa years ago, I might have figured it out sooner.
“Peace begins with a smile.”-Mother Teresa
I believe that each of us navigates life with an ever-present stream of malaise that runs inside of us. Sometimes it’s a low trickle, and other times it rushes as a result of life’s storms that fill it to capacity.
I’m working hard to navigate internal rushing waters at the Phoenix airport, returning to Iowa after a week long Arizona visit. I’m leaving behind in Scottsdale my three children and best girlfriend and her husband. My children’s father is here as well, and we’ve spent the past week as an emotionally healthy post divorce family having some quality time together, reminiscing about a past that was simultaneously painful and exhilarating. Our time has included the seriousness of my former husband’s diagnosis with a terminal disease that is ravaging his body.
My gate to Des Moines is full of sleepy passengers, some eating gross burritos and thick crust pizza from the food stands near our gate, even though it’s only 8AM. Most are tired, flat affects, biding time before being smushed into a small plane with luggage and their souvenir cactus in a box.
I decide to grab a nonfat chai latte but Starbucks is too far of a hike, so I find my place in the reasonably short line at a nondescript coffee kiosk. I let out a deep sigh as the wellspring of emotions continues to bubble up.
I look ahead in line to see which coffee cashier will serve me, and am immediately drawn energetically to “left cashier.” A 40-something striking African American woman with a big beautiful smile and bright eyes, she beams with light greeting each weary traveler with a vibrant “Good morning!” and pleasant small talk while making direct eye contact. “Right cashier”on the other side of the kiosk has a low grade smile and is not nearly as exuberant.
I try to jockey into position so I can end up with left cashier. I want to suck in her emotional state because I feel immediate internal calming just from studying her from my place in line.
This phenomenon of reacting to another’s emotion has been proven scientifically. It’s “emotional contagion” and studies at Yale and elsewhere confirm that every encounter we have produces an invisible impact of emotions that transmit between us. Our emotions have the power to nourish others or produce toxicity.
It’s thanks to our brain mechanisms including the amygdala and the basal areas of the brain stem that regulate reflex and automatic response. Once the physiology kicks in the path is open for the emotions to flow. My low energy crowd at the gate was bringing me down and left cashier’s glow zapped my brain into receiving a whole different emotional path.
Studies in emotional contagion prove that both good and bad feelings spread, although the research is mixed on which are more contaigous. Objective measures show those impacted by the virus of good emotions register higher in cooperation, fairness, collaboration and overall group performance. I have seen this in my work as a professional mediator, watching upbeat emotion and a positive outlook in the private meeting rooms result in more settlements.
We’ve all experienced the brain circuitry of emotional contagion; think about when someone smiles and we smile back without even thinking about it. When I train mediators, I assign the students to make eye contact and smile at every person they encounter, from the grocery clerk to their children and spouse, after they leave our training day. Debriefing confirms the emotional contagion process is real, and the trainees are exhilarated by the exercise. Past trainees often tell me they still practice the exercise.
A New York study confirms that emotions are highly contagious in our most emotionally laden relationship: marriage. Humans react most severely to negative emotions including pain, sadness, and fear. Thus, one spouse’s depression is likely to trigger a similar depression in the other spouse. This begs the question of whether a spouse who sets an intention to consistently exude positivity can counteract one who’s consistently sad.
Some of us are more susceptible to emotional contagion than others, and a good indicator is how much your mood changes when you are around strong emotion. I identify as a happy, optimistic person but also I am an empath. Empaths are people who are hyper-sensitively tuned in to others’ emotions such that we sometimes take them in without even realizing it, often causing strong emotional swings. I’ve learned to be vigilant putting up a mental shield to negative emotions, which can be difficult in my work as a family lawyer and mediator. I also try to consistently emote positive, healthy emotions to supercharge the atmosphere around hurting clients. If I am not rested or I’m “hangry” (that ugly state of being hungry, low blood sugar and grouchy) I easily take in the low energy emotions of those around me.
Despite my attempted maneuvering, I end up in right cashier’s line. I make direct eye contact and smile: “Hi, I’m Kim how are you today?” and she smiles back saying she is doing well. I find out she is Michelle and we have a light hearted smiling exchange as she rings me up, making direct eye contact, and tells me to have a wonderful safe journey. I’m hopeful that the virus now permeates the entire coffee kiosk line and maybe even the whole airport. I sip my warm latte, noticing the malaise river is back within it’s shores. I pull my shoulders back triggering erect posture and walk purposefully to my gate. I board the plane to Iowa, off to do the work I know I am called to do.
If you are interested in coaching or mediation training contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”
Invested in the grievance stories magnified by their lawyers, family law clients often become repeat customers. Whether through initial actions, modifications or contempt proceedings, family law practice can be steady business for the lawyer, but often leaves festering wounds for the families we represent.
Hard fought family cases can also hurt family lawyers. Our suffering clients call us non stop, email us long diatribes, even show up at our office unannounced and agitated. Fueling the fire by delivering scathing interrogatories or through biting cross-examination can wear on an advocate’s mind, body and spirit.
In response, family lawyers are starting to expand their practices to focus on peacemaking. What makes a lawyer a peacemaker?
1. They practice law with connection and authenticity. Peacemakers don’t think it makes them less of a lawyer because they refuse to heap more hurt on hurting people, especially when children are involved. They genuinely care about the well being of their clients, their colleagues and themselves and believe that peaceful problem solving approaches are healthier for everyone.
2. They use proactive early intervention. Peacemakers recognize that the parties will still have to work together even after the legal intervention, so they set a tone of healing instead of aggression from the outset of a case. Whether through mediation, collaborative law, or simply meeting with the other lawyer to discuss the case, peacemakers agree to customize a strategy that works for both clients. They look for ways to streamline the legal process instead of letting it be driven only by court deadlines.
3. They use an interdisciplinary approach to conflict. Family lawyers are expected to be lawyer, counselor, financial advisor, parenting coach, communication expert, real estate analyzer and retirement guru. Peacemakers recognize the best use of the lawyers’ time is for legal advice, drafting and interfacing with the judge. They involve specialists including therapists, child development experts, financial advisors, realtors, and social workers to assist in developing a comprehensive plan for the family. Adding these experts mean the family has a highly specialized team often providing lower overall cost for comprehensive decision making. Lawyers focus on what they do best, and minimize the stress of trying to solve all the client’s problems themselves.
4. They encourage clients to “do the right thing.” Peacemakers don’t consider it a “win” to have someone pay as little child support as possible, if it means children aren’t financially supported at the other parent’s house. They don’t automatically fight to minimize a healthy and loving parent’s time with their children, at the request of a heartbroken client. These lawyers use words like “healing” and “forgiveness” and may set up infrastructures to improve trust and teamwork between parents. They help clients write a new forward focused story of life transformation that identifies the client as the hero, not the victim of the story.
5. They model emotional intelligence. Active listening, compassion and empathy are key skills used by peacemaking lawyers. “Patience is the greatest attribute of a peacemaker,” says Dick Calkins, a longtime advocate of peacemaking law. These lawyers don’t thrive on depositions with blistering accusatory questions so their clients can see their lawyer hurt their partner. Instead, they work together respectfully and cooperatively, modeling behavior families will need in order to heal. That may include producing documents voluntarily upon request and using calm reasoned discussion instead of threats.
6. They take the long view and encourage clients to do the same. Author of the ABA bestselling book “Lawyers as Peacemakers” J. Kim Wright puts it this way: “The upheaval of divorce can be very emotional and uncomfortable. It is easy to succumb to the emotions of the moment and strike out, do some damage, hurt you because you hurt me. Reacting provides short-term satisfaction and guarantees long-term conflict.
Peacemaking focuses on the long view, aligning with long-term values and goals. What relationship do these parents want to have in five, ten, twenty years? Who goes to the first day of school? Who will celebrate the team championship with your daughter? Will you dance at your son’s wedding or boycott because your ex will be there? The long view isn’t easy, but it is the path that focuses on the well-being of your child, not the emotions of the moment.”
7. They are creative in their approach to conflict. Each case is viewed as a unique set of circumstances requiring a customized approach of creative problem solving. Lawyers are creative people, but in traditional practice they aren’t encouraged to “think outside the box.” Peacemakers unleash creative thinking without feeling intimidated in putting forth a unique idea that isn’t borrowed from the standard stipulation template.
Often, the biggest impediment for peacemaking lawyers is the other lawyer. If opposing counsel makes aggressive moves or promotes themes of “fight to win,” or “let’s let the judge decide,” it frustrates peacemaking opportunities. Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean you sing kum-by-ah and get eaten alive in litigation. It means you see the peacemaking approach as a higher calling because it results in much healthier outcomes and is more satisfying to your clients and your own soul.
A baby lawyer fully trained in peacemaking skills recently told me, “I hope for the day when a client calls asking to destroy the other side in litigation and a lawyer says, “I’m sorry, I don’t engage in that type of law, it’s not healthy for families.”
And then, they call the next person on the list and that lawyer says, “I’m sorry I don’t engage in that type of law it’s not healthy for families.” And then each lawyer down the list says the same thing so that clients understand that peacemaking and healing families is what it means to be a family lawyer.”
I may not see that total shift in the practice of family law during my lifetime. But I truly believe he will.
As an attorney, my days are filled with difficult conversations. I may deliver painful news to people involving their legal matter, or speak firmly with another lawyer as I advocate for my client. Recently, I had to have difficult conversations with three different people who had let me down or hurt me.
The approach I try to take in all these circumstances is to “speak the truth in love.” That means speaking directly but with a clear motive of trying to help the person receiving the message to understand something, and not to punish, condemn or play victim.
Failure to initiate difficult conversations leaves us feeling disappointed or resentful and keeps us from being authentic and emotionally healthy. Avoiding these conversations may instead result in passive aggressive behavior or whispering our hurts to friends leading to gossip, triangulation of relationships, and fuel for our hurt.
Here’s what I’ve learned about initiating difficult conversations:
Here’s what I recommend if someone “speaks the truth in love” to you:
2. Validate feelings before you respond. “It sounds like you are really disappointed, I understand how you might feel that way,” or a similar statement, lets the initiator know that you “get it.” Their feelings are valid for them. Whether their position is correct is another story. Pivoting into defensiveness or attack, or telling them they should not feel the way they feel, gets you nowhere and diminishes your credibility.
Speaking the truth in love can be challenging, but it provides growth for those who aspire to live with authenticity and courage.