If you’ve been watching the news lately, or even been trying to avoid it, or occasionally taking a gander at Facebook or Twitter or your social media of choice, or at the very least been forced to overhear the conversation being held by the people in the booth next to you at Waffle House, you are probably aware that basic civility has taken a hit.
What separates us from the animals, or what used to, anyway, is that when we get irritated by other people, we only metaphorically head butt them and leave them bloody with a carefully grown rack of antlers. Now, not so much. Now, Cardi B whips off her shoe and flings it at Nicki Minaj’s head during New York fashion week at a snooty, exclusive party.
So let us, for comparison purposes, take this random quote from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, known for their ferocity, back in the days when words were not distilled into sound-bites. “In the remarks I have made on this platform, and the position of Mr. Lincoln upon it, I mean nothing personally disrespectful or unkind to that gentleman. I have known him for nearly twenty-five years. There were many points of sympathy between us when we first got acquainted.” Dayum, Stephen Douglas. Throw some shade. Oh wait. You’re saying you respect the man but disagree with his opinion. Huh. Weird.
I’m the first one to tell lawyer jokes. (My favorite? What’s the difference between a catfish and a lawyer? One is a scum sucking bottom feeder and the other one is a fish.) There are a lot of extremely unpleasant lawyers out there. Arguing with your friends and co-workers and dealing with people at their lowest and worst all day long, hearing the details of the worst humanity has to offer and trying to make a delicious chicken-salad sandwich out of it can wear on a person’s soul. We become cynical and have an uncomfortable tendency to cross examine our friends at cocktail parties.
But I’ll tell you this – with few exceptions, courtrooms are the last bastion of basic civility.
We are expected to wear formal clothing. If you are a man and you show up wearing a three piece suit with a pocket watch and a bow tie and wingtips, you will be in uniform. If you are a woman and you show up wearing sensible pumps and a pantsuit or a skirt suit with a silk blouse and a string of pearls you will fit right in. We refer to everyone as “Mr.” “Ms.” “Your Honor” and “Deputy” or “Officer.”
Today, I saw a twitter debate amongst lawyers and judges about whether the word “ridiculous” was appropriate. Ridiculous! Not name calling, insults, profanity, or shoe-throwing. The word “ridiculous.” The near unanimous conclusion was that using the word ridiculous was in and of itself ridiculous and unprofessional. In fact, the 6th Circuit Court said in Big Dipper Entm’t, LLC v. City of Warren, 641 F. 3d 715, 719 (2011), “the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions.”
I mean, imagine that. Laying out actual facts and letting the person or entity who is deciding make his or her or its own decision.
Not for nothing, but consider the following scenario: you get mad at someone and call her a turd-bucket and smack her upside the head. What is likely to happen? Is she going to stop in her tracks and question her existence? Is she going to think, “Am I? Am I really a turd-bucket? Perhaps I should consider the error of my ways and apologize for my colossal mistake. Wow. I was really wrong.” Or, is she more likely to beat you with a stick and question your parentage and never listen to another word you say?
I’m going with number two.
Being a mean-spirited jerk face is not only mean-spirited, but also unproductive. Even if your underlying point is correct.
Be kind. You can disagree all you want. You can think what you want, you can tell your friends whatever violent fantasies you have about the morons you have to deal with on a daily basis. But there is something to be said for the passive aggression in a courtroom when lawyers begin their sentences with, “I have to respectfully disagree with my learned counsel on the other side…..”
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori on Twitter or on Facebook. Lori is a National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2018 Columnist winner, and a New Apple, Readers’ Favorite, and eLit award winner for her latest release, “You Know I Love You Because You’re Still Alive.” She is also the author of the bestselling books “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza,” and “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket.”
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Told You…” is set to be released in the Spring of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.