Loving legal life: Are you subject to a mental restraining order?

Conventional wisdom used to demand that to be a good lawyer you had to stand your ground and prove your point, since being “right” proved that someone else was “wrong” and so you “won”.   This linear, adversarial mind-set has its roots in primitive, self-serving methods of dispute resolution, which justify themselves by a flawed logic of cause and effect.  If the accused floats, she is a witch and must be executed; if she drowns, she is innocent.

Zita Tulyahikayo

Although methods of dispute resolution are now becoming more subtle and inclusive, the lawyer mind-set of “right” versus “wrong” still pervades.  Indeed, the profession tends to attract those who are naturally drawn to holding strong opinions and defending them against those who take a different view.

And here is the problem: as soon as we decide that our view of the world is “right” or “the truth” and someone else’s view is “wrong” or “false”, we shut our minds to other possibilities and solutions, and the richness and diversity that life has to offer is wasted on us.  We then live in a state of closure, rather than being open to the possibilities that are around us.  These attitudes are not only held by individuals – they are also features of organisations.  Anyone trying to introduce change into the work place will be familiar with the closed mind stance that organisations can sometimes display.

So what are the features of being closed, and being open? We discuss these below (with thanks to Dave Straker at changingminds.org.)

Being closed

Many of us live in a state of closure, where any new ideas are ignored, criticized or otherwise pushed away. Closure is a state where the doors of the mind are, literally, closed. It is a state where defending existing ideas, beliefs, values, mental models and so on is the prime response. A good argument is one where you win and the opponents (who are always wrong) lose.

Being closed is, in some ways, comfortable. It is staying with what is seen as the tried and true. However it is also a state of embattlement, where you are constantly having to repel boarders.

People who are mostly closed seek like-minded people, where there is a tacit agreement not to challenge ideas. In fact much of the conversation is spent reinforcing those ideas and scoffing at the rest of the world. Their lives are as predictable as they are comfortably numb, with emotions held at arms length and meaningless habits the sole source of sustenance.

Being open

James Pereira QC
James Pereira QC

To be open is to live with a sense of curiosity, where every moment is an opportunity for learning, where existing ideas, mental models and beliefs are temporary and flexible. What others have to say is always interesting, and a good dialogue is one where you learn something new or are persuaded to think differently in some way. Being open means seeing things both as they really are (as opposed to through the lens of fixed thought) and also as how they could be. The world is seen as alive, dynamic and full of opportunity.

Being open is exciting and interesting. It can also be tiring when you have been drinking at the hosepipe of discovery for too long. Being open does need rest periods, when you can digest your new learning, integrating it into your current (though loose) models of understanding. Being open does not necessarily mean never being closed, but it does mean being open by default and being in that state for most of the time.

People who are mostly open seek new experiences and conversation with strangers. Their friends may be highly diverse and the company they frequent is likely to be others who are also open to challenging thought. Their lives do have pattern, though the patterns are of exploration and difference rather than similarity and similarity.

Where are you now, and where are you going?

Zita Tulyahikayo and James Pereira QC are coaches providing organisational, team and individual coaching to professionals, with a particular focus on the legal profession. They can be contacted at contact@librapartnership.com

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