I love it when my instinctive beliefs about the nature of humanity are borne out by other people’s research. To wit: an article in the Washington Post on Emotional Dysfunction Disorder. In a nutshell:
People who suffer from EDD are unable to step outside themselves and tune in to what other people experience. That makes it a source of personal conflicts, of communication failure in intimate relationships, and of the adversarial attitudes — even hatred — among groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life.
The author — a psychotherapist, business psychologist and researcher who has been in the biz for 35 years — discusses EDD in the context of personal relations, but what immediately leapt to my mind was how widespread this condition must be among lawyers. And how the failure by the profession to rein in the worst offenders contributes to the massive levels of depression and dysfunction amongst all lawyers. Not to mention the (mostly deserved) reputation of lawyers as being completely unfeeling assholes concerned only with money, power and status.
How many times have you witnessed the lack of empathy among lawyers? For example, treating opposing witnesses harshly, dismissive of any feelings they may have: this is standard operating procedure in most law practices. Because if you don’t press every possible advantage in your case, regardless of the morality of doing so, you might lose. Which means (so the thinking goes) no clients, no money, no reputation as a bad-ass lawyer’s lawyer. And that way of thinking bleeds very quickly into how lawyers treat their associates, colleagues, and their family.
Indeed, as LaBier (the author) points out:
Nearly every day we hear or read about people who have been derailed by the pursuit of money and recognition and end up in rehab or behind bars. But many of the people I see, whether therapy patients or career and business clients, struggle with their own versions of the same thing. They have become alienated from their own hearts and equate what they have with who they are.
I witnessed this phenomenon first-hand, watching fairly amiable summer associates transform into nasty, selfish lawyers within three years of starting law practice. And I, too, had some moments of profound self-centeredness that I’m not proud of, snarling at strangers whose biggest sin was crossing my path at the wrong moment.
The good news is that for lawyers who are at least somewhat self-aware, there’s a way to fix EDD: doing good works, and making a conscious effort to put yourself in someone else’s skin.
Next time, we can talk about how to do that.