I had an opportunity to reflect again on this topic a few days ago. When I finished up on the bench in 2013, the local bar association graciously hosted a retirement dinner for me. I think all who were present had a good time; I know I certainly did. I put together a few farewell remarks, which were later refined and published in the Maine Bar Journal. I covered a few topics, one of which was the importance of civility between lawyers. I said:
“I sometimes think of myself as a collector of other people’s wisdom. I heard a particularly valued piece of advice at MSBA’s Bridging the Gap in 1982. Barry Zimmerman said to the assembled new lawyers, “This is Maine, don’t be a jerk!” These are only seven words, but they are seven words that go to the heart of practicing law in Maine.
However, wisdom is also found in less likely places. I found another quote that I cherish in a spy novel namedShibumi that was published back in 1979. The author observed:
‘In the long run, the “minor” virtues are the only ones that matter. Politeness is more reliable than the moist virtues of compassion, charity or sincerity; just as fair play is more important than the abstraction of justice. The major virtues tend to disintegrate under the pressures of convenient rationalization. But good form is good form, and it stands immutable in the storm of circumstance.’
It is not only possible, but also necessary for judges and lawyers to disagree without being disagreeable when in court. Whatever else may happen, at a minimum, we should all be polite with each other, especially when we are tempted not to be. We model behavior, good or bad, to clients and everyone else in the courtroom.“
I am in fact a conscious collector of other people’s wisdom. Perhaps my most valued possession is an old tattered notebook that I started in 1973, writing quotes into it that had moved me in some way.
I was reminded of this the other day when reading the current issue of Road & Track. Not exactly where one would expect to see useful marital advice. Nevertheless, there it was, ending Bob Lutz’s monthly Q & A column on the last page of the issue:
“Q. I got married in June. We’ve been together a long time, but wedded life is entirely different. What’s the secret to a successful marriage?
A. I’m the wrong guy to ask since I’m on my fourth wife, but the number one ingredient has to be an atmosphere of honesty, intimacy and good communication. You must be able to share secrets, dreams, worries and desires. I will say this to my fellow males – and it’s easy for an almost 84-year old to expound like this – that infidelity doesn’t work. Yes, it’s tempting, but the minute you start hiding a portion of your life from your spouse, you’ve destroyed the emotional intimacy.”
Wow. I co-wrote a 377-page book on Divorce. Mr. Lutz captured an essential insight we missed that could have been covered in multiple pages, if not a chapter, and boiled it down to one paragraph. Maybe that’s why he’s one of the most influential thinkers in the automobile world.
We find wisdom wherever it’s spoken or written, sometimes in unlikely places. But we can and should learn from it wherever we find it.
Senior Policy Advisor