Living Your Best Life at Any Age

Posts tagged ‘idealism’

A FIFTY YEAR OLD EXPERIENCES THE SOCRATIC METHOD

“Fictional characters like Professor Kingsfield of The Paper Chase have contributed to an image of the quintessential law school professor who puts a student in the “hot seat” and delves into what seems like an intimidating and almost torturous line of inquiry.  This pedagogical technique is commonly known as the Socratic method: one of the defining characteristics of the American legal education system, almost universally used during the first year of law school.” ****

Have you heard of the Socratic method?  Did you ever watch the movie or TV show “Paper Chase”?  Why would anyone subject themselves to this kind of harassment, humiliation and embarrassment?

Ms Quirk, What did you think of the ruling in this case?  Really?  Is that what you think?  Class?  Do you agree with her?  

Terror, sheer  terror.  Fear of humiliation – why am I here?  What makes me think I can do this.  I am going to flunk out.  I don’t belong here.  My classmates are all smarter.  One element of the Socratic Method is to prove your ignorance.  Leaving you open for learning — I guess.

This is the study of law.  I love it.  Notice I said the study of law.  Not the practice of law.  The two have no relationship whatsoever.

When did I become so enamored of this study based upon such arcane principles started by some old dead guy of long ago who got poisoned for his actions?  Socrates!  Many a law student has used his name as a curse.

It started for me many years ago with the case of Helen Palsgraf v Long Island Railroad.  I will give you the details of the case later but first let me tell you how I came to know Mrs. Palsgraf.

In the late 60’s I was a young bride married to a military officer who decided to go to law school  I went from wearing hats and white gloves to meetings of the Officers Wives Club to a little more casual attire of the Law Wives Club.  The law wives club, of course, was a supportive group (there were no “law husbands”) of women mainly to help us be supportive of our poor husbands suffering the grinds of law school.

At one of the meetings we welcomed the torts professor, Professor Peck.   Torts we learned deals with a civil wrong resulting in a lawsuit.  Along with Contracts and Constitutional Law it is a core subject.  Professor Peck wanted to give us a sample of an actual law school tort class – along with a demonstration of the Socratic Method.  So he told us the story of Mrs. Palsgraf and her ride on the Long Island Railroad.  He took us through the torture of the questioning method.  How should the court rule?  Do you agree with Judge Cardozo or Judge Andrews?  Really, Mrs. Quirk?  Is that what you really think?  Ladies, do you agree with Mrs. Quirk?  Etc. etc.   He took us through the torture and humiliation of the Socratic Method.

I loved it!  I was hooked and knew someday I would study law.

And I did – some 25 years later I found myself in first year law school torts class.

“When do we get to Mrs. Palsgraf?”  

“Soon Ms. Quirk, soon.”

Ahh, the day came.  Even after 25 years I remembered the facts and that clock on the platform that injured poor Mrs. Palsgraf.  But now came the terror.

“Do you agree with the majority opinion of Justice Cardozo or the dissent of Justice Andrews?” 

Uh, um.  Let me think.

This is a lot more complicated than I thought.  I found that Palsgraf is a seminal case on how far we draw the line in negligence and proximate cause.

See, I was learning real lawyer words now.

As grades came out, I tied for first place in that first year torts class.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  I continue to learn the STUDY of law.  Perhaps you will become motivated also by hearing about Mrs. Palsgraf and you too will want to STUDY law.

So here we go.

In the 1920’s Helen Palsgraf (little is actually known about her) was on her way to Rockaway, perhaps to take her daughter to the beach.  She was quietly sitting on a bench on the platform waiting for her train.  At the same time, a conductor was hurrying some passengers unto a departing train.  He gave one of them a push to speed things up and the passenger dropped a package he was carrying.  It happens that the package contained fireworks.  (Little is known about the passenger and why he was carrying fireworks.  Anarchist?  Probably some Italians on their way to a celebration)   the fireworks exploded causing a large scale to become dislodged off the wall, injuring Mrs. Palsgraf.

Question:  Is the Long Island Railroad liable to Mrs. Palsgraf and should they pay for her injuries?

Now here is where we separate the engineers and the scientists from the legal scholars.  If you are thinking about how the scales were bolted on the wall or what made the fireworks go off or even who the fireworks carrier was, you are missing the point.  The point is:

Did the Long Island Railroad owe a duty of care to Mrs. P? And did they breach that duty?  I.e.  were they negligent by way of their employee the conductor?

A tort requires three factors:  Duty, negligence, injury.  There is no question that Mrs. P was injured and few would argue that the RR has a duty of care to its passengers.  But should they be responsible for paying for Mrs. P’s injuries?

Here is where we would have the famous Socratic discussion that would last a couple of hours.

Are you bored yet?  Exited?  Curious?

The court split in its decision and the debate continues today.  Speaking for the majority, Justice Cardozo went into a long discussion about foreseeability.  Was it foreseeable that a passenger would be carrying dynamite?  Is it foreseeable that an explosion could cause the scale to land on someone?

After pages and pages of discussion, Justice Cardozo went for a pragmatic answer that was basically “We have to draw a line somewhere”.    In his dissent, Justice Andrews railed against drawing a line and said if there was negligence, then all results of the negligence should be included.  Thus giving way to the argument of proximate cause:  never mind the butterfly effect – which would mean a line was never drawn.

Interested?  Excited?  You too might want to engage in the study of law.

Now you know how Mrs. Palsgraf and the Long Island Railroad started me on the lifetime path of studying law.

But I don’t get into too many Socratic discussions anymore.

To Read the case yourself:  http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/cases/palsgraf_lirr.htm

To read more about the Socratic method

***http://aglr.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/the-reality-of-the-socratic-method-in-law-school-classrooms-a-call-to-preserve-our-longstanding-tradition/

And here is the happy 55 year old:

Law school graduation

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YOU CAN MAKE A LOT OF DIFFERENCE IN OTHER’S LIVES

“Your Story can change someone else’s”  1896950_745177378833409_1062714364_n

You, Yes you! can make a LOT of difference in someone’s lives merely by practicing the LOT principle.  Listen, Observe, Tell 
 

Does the name George Bailey ring a bell?  He was the main character in the perennial classic Christmas movie “It’s a wonderful Life”.  (Extra points if you get the bell reference.)   When the movie begins, George is standing on a bridge, ready to jump off.  He feels his life is meaningless – that he doesn’t matter.  An angel appears and as George reviews his life he finds that he did make a difference after all.  In the end all is well, it’s a wonderful life – and his angel gets his wings.

But, I’m no George Bailey, you say.  I’m not sure I make a difference.  I sometimes wonder this myself.  Who am I to inspire others?

I haven’t started a multi-million dollar company; I’ve never played pro sports.  I have not overcome major adversity –no near death experience, no major debilitating disease and I pretty much have most of my faculties.  On the other hand, I have lived to what could be called a ripe old age and experienced success and failure.  I have parented, started a business, married, divorced and even obtained a professional degree.  Yup, I have stories to share — stories that might impact others.  I have a quote on my office wall:  “Your story can change someone else’s” I truly believe that.  The stories we share can make a difference.  To quote our current hero, Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson:  “Why not you?”

Let me give you an example of how someone changed my life:

High school.  The dark ages.  Girls were taught typing, shorthand and homemaking skills.  In ninth grade we were to make a four year plan of the classes we would take to complete high school graduation requirements.  When the teacher, Mrs. McLaughlin saw my plan she remarked that I had not scheduled any classes I would need for college.  College?  I’m not going to college.  People in my family do not go to college. Nope, we are not college people.  Not remotely on the radar.  To this day her reply stuck with me:  “I hate to see a bright student not prepare for college”.

Bright student?  Me?  No one in my then 15 years ever told me I was bright.  Me?  Wow.  What a revelation!  I was impressed. I took Mrs. McLaughlin’s advice and took Algebra, geometry and even two years of classic Latin.  Yup,  Veni, Vidi, Vici.  I came, I saw, I conquered.

Furthermore, I did go to college. When I became a student teacher, Mrs. McLaughlin was my master teacher.  I had the privilege to tell her how she changed my life.  And you know what?  She didn’t even remember me or the conversation!  It was just something she did because that is who she is. She was just doing what was natural to her.   That’s just who she was.

That’s how easy it can be to completely change someone’s life.  And often we don’t even know we are doing so.  Not only did I go to college, ultimately I completed law school.    I know that in my professional capacity I have and continue to impact lives.  But what about the little day to day things we do.

You can do a LOT.

That’s my acronym for Listen Observe Talk.

Listen

Listening is not a passive thing and it involves paying attention to facial expression, body language.  What is this person really saying?  Feeling? Often after I have met with a client they tell me how much better they feel.  How helpful I was.  And all I did was LISTEN.  Truly listening is the greatest gift we can give another person.

 Observe

What did your barista look like this morning?  Did you even notice her?  Later at work, a coworker sighed deeply.  Did you ask what was wrong? Did you make eye contact?  It is amazing how people respond to eye contact.  Culturally we are taught to do so but do we really? We look to the side of the eye, or the bridge of the nose.  Truly make eye contact.

 Talk

Have you ever noticed how someone reacts when you comment on their appearance, or the service they are providing, or their smile?  Is there something they are obviously proud of on their desk or wall?  Comment!

Remember: “Your story can change someone else’s”    Sometimes just the reminder that we all share the human condition can give someone hope and courage.   Not  “I can top that one” but a heartfelt, “I understand.  I went through this also and here’s what I did.”  Or, perhaps, “I can’t even imagine how this must feel for you.  How would you like me to help?”   Talk, tell your story.

The following quote came across my Facebook page the other day:

“ONE KIND WORD CAN CHANGE SOMEONE’S ENTIRE DAY.”

 Think about it.  One kind word can change someone’s entire day.

Here is my challenge to you.

Set out each day to make a difference in someone’s life.  Do so by Listening,Observing,  Talking.

The next time you are among other people,  practice truly connecting with someone.  Listen, Observe, Talk.    After the first, do one more and one more.

I will give you a money back guarantee that by the end of the day your life will be different.

Yes, You can make a LOT of difference and impact lives.

I challenge you.

Remembering Fifty Years Ago

November 22, 2013.

Of those of us alive in the United States, there are three events that will forever be “where were you”.  They are Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and nine eleven.   Those who remember Pearl Harbor are now in their late 70s and beyond.  Those of us over 55 can remember the other two and can vividly recall where they were on those truly infamous days.

November 22, 1963 I was a young officer’s wife at Little Rock Air Force Base.  My husband, the history major, got me interested in current events.  We went through the Cuban Missile crisis, which was a scary time when you live on a Strategic Air Command base.   I always watched the presidential press conferences; I became interested in the civil rights movement.  (A pretty traumatic time for a white girl from Spokane Washington living in Little Rock Arkansas)  We all watched the televised White House Tour with Jackie Kennedy.   Friends were joining the Peace Corps and we were all pretty starry eyed and idealistic.

That day I was at a lunch at the Officers’ Wives Club.  Someone approached us and told us the president had been shot.  I thought she was joking and waited for the punch line.  The look on her face let me know there was no punch line.  One of the other women and I drove home in silence listening to the radio.  I continued to hold out hope that it was not as bad as the news reports were indicating.  When we got to my driveway my companion, a catholic, gesticulated  the sign of the cross.  This chilled me as I recognized she was acknowledging something I could not yet bring myself to believe.  He would be alright.  This could not happen.

I hurried into the house to watch television in time to see the now immortalized  scene of Walter Cronkite removing his glasses.  If Walter said so, then it must be.

The United States came to a standstill for next several days.  Everything closed down.  No television shows, everything was solemn.  Even our neighbors on the base, who had shown little love for the President were in shock and saddened.  Some talked about how even though they did not agree with the politics of this President, they were saddened by the death of a family man and felt compassion for his widow and two small children.  Many of our neighbors had children the same age.

We were glued to the television when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby right there on live television.  We watched the funeral procession with young John John saluting the carriage carrying his father.  We were all in various stages of trauma.

None of what I am telling here is new.  Our younger generations grew up with these facts and it’s all been repeated over and over again this last week in the 24 hour news cycle.  How does one convey the trauma, the feelings, the utter dismay.  We are now accustomed to violence, murder, unthinkable acts.  Not only was I young, but our nation was young.  We were optimistic, we were hopeful.  We had a president that inspired us to be better than we thought we could be.

In later years our jaded selves learned more.  The man we admired had faults, was human and certainly not as healthy as we thought.  But none of that mattered.  Our dreams, our ideals were shattered.  There would be many more assassinations, riots and violence and the scourge of the Viet Nam war.  We were no longer young and idealistic.

Now we are no longer young.  Some have never regained the idealism of youth.  But for some of us, the dream lives on.

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