Archive for February, 2014

I went to Yale for a conference on Rebellious Lawyering this past weekend. It was a blast. Lots of great conversation, a wide range of issues and approaches presented, a very intimate setting for every panel and workshop, and excellent speakers. Unfortunately my flight was severely delayed and so I missed the Healing and Vicarious Trauma workshop that was offered, but there were many other moments that were relevant to my externship as well. One was a “caucus” convened on Faith and Religion.

As neither one who identifies as being “of faith” nor as “religious” (although I do identify culturally as Jewish), I attended this because my sense of spirituality is very much at the heart of what makes me me, and what makes me a lawyer/activist. It is something that seems to cause a lot of divisiveness at Elon, to the extent that students refuse to speak publicly about their beliefs – and I mean in the classroom. It also creates an air of separation because once you find out where one falls here in terms of Christianity, you seem to also know their politics. This can’t be true, but it’s the way it feels.

At the conference I was able to hear from students who are Christian but also choice activists. I got to hear from two Saudi Arabian women who are students here and wonder how to conceive of law in a secular society, or how that approach may be applied in their own country. I also got to speak about “wellness” as a litmus test, basically, for freedom, and for a well functioning system or democracy. When you have justice, a system is well. When you have disease that is not addressed, you limit your society’s capacity for being just. On a more personal level, we can all agree that wellness, being healthy, is important. What it means to be healthy is something we can discuss in a more complex way. And maybe through that discussion, we can find solutions to problems that would otherwise not seem even the slightest bit related to wellness… Such as poverty. Such as civil rights. Not to mention issues of environmental degradation. Or education…

I also had a friend die this week. A young lawyer I’ve known since college. He even had an L.L.M. from the London School of Economics and helped keep me inspired last year with phone calls and Facebook posts. He apparently overdosed on painkillers and alcohol… Feeling really sad. Remembering what this work is about…

Etymology of Leadership

Have you ever wondered where the word leadership comes from?  The Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins explains two roots of the word lead.  One describes the metal, which “may have come ultimately from an Indo-European source meaning ‘flow’ (a reference to the metal’s low melting point)”.  The other traces lead back to “a prehistoric West and North Germaniclaithjan,” which was derived from laitho, meaning way or journey, from which comes the English word load.  Etymologically then, “lead means ’cause to go along one’s way.”

In medieval times the word lead began to take on more specific dimensions.  The OnlineEtymology Dictionary tells us that the idea of being “in first place” came about in the 1400’s.  In fact, lead meaning “the front or leading place” is from the 1560’s when it was actually stigmatized as “a low, despicable word.”  Its use in card-playing comes from 1742; “in theater, from 1831; in journalism, from 1927; in jazz bands, from 1934.”  Interestingly, holding a “lead” position in relation to others, part of what seems to have become a major feature ofleadership in modern times, is different from earlier linguistic constructions that sawleadership in far more existential terms (i.e. “leading” one’s life).  The question is, what allows for carryover between these definitions?

We have a concept of leadership which some argue is ancient and at the least prehistoric, that places an emphasis on the existential nature of life, its flow you might even extrapolate.  This meaning has morphed over the millenia into a pre-modern and arguably even post-modern concept of leadership that refers to a box of traits, with one who possesses these traits being essentially qualified to live an exemplary life.  In this light, our cultural fixation withleadership might even be viewed as a means of separating classes of people: those who exhibit the capacity to lead and those who don’t.  (There are many implications of this, but those I’ll save for another blog post…)

A modern etymological synonym of leading is to guide, which comes from the Old Frenchguider, “to guide, lead, conduct,” from the Frankish witan, to “show the way,” from the Pre-Germanic wit– “to know,” weisen, “to show, point out,” in Old English witan, “to see”, and from Pre-Indo-European weid– “to see.”  To close the loop on this, the Pre-Indo-Europeanetymology of the verb to see is sekw–  which may be the same base that produced words for “say” in Greek and Latin, and also words for “follow” (i.e. follow with the eyes).  From this perspective, leading is about seeing and following one’s vision as much as it’s about consciously setting a course or example for others.

We have seminars and camps and retreats and infinite literature on what it means to exhibitleadership, how to cultivate the qualities of leadership and how to promote leadership in our communities.  And yet, as elegant and complex as we can make it, leadership seems to come down to a definition that held sway 5,500 years ago: the ability to see one’s own way.  It is not that how we choose to live is immaterial to the livelihoods of others – we live in an interdependent society and our decisions certainly impact the communities we are parts of.  But when we stop and think about it, before we strive for someone else’s definition of how to be a good leader, it seems imperative that we learn how to clearly see who and where we ourselves are first.  Then we can truly be leaders.

Enroute to a Rebellious Lawyering conference I’ve been looking forward to for weeks, I am “stranded” at the airport in my city of departure.  Technically, I am “stranded” at the airport bar..

With a book entitled Conscious Business on my lap and a Bloody Mary now in hand, I am attempting to detach from the frustration and sense of self-entitlement that makes me so irate in situations–moments–such as this one.

Thoughts that have entered and flitted around my mind in the last several minutes: Dammit, I’m already spending my cash on drinks and I haven’t even left Greensboro!  Relax (I tell myself), this is SPACE in your day, time to be quiet, reflect, organize, WRITE…  Dammit (again with this one), I’m hungry and everything is salt-laden and eight times too expensive!  Relax (I tell myself) (see a theme here?), this, like all other moments, like all other days, regardless of what I tell myself, is part of the process…

New thought: I am happy.  I get to attend this conference, even if I’m late.  I get to see my friend, Julia, who is graciously hosting me and being as flexible as I could ask.  I may be upset at having to spend more money on what seems superfluous or unnecessary, and yet, why shouldn’t I enjoy this time of “delay”?  Why shouldn’t I take this moment, and as many as I am able, to enjoy myself?  B.K.S. Iyengar wrote that enjoyment is actually the awareness of all of one’s senses…  That is my new focal point.  That is my new orientation.  And that is what I will bring with me to this conference on “rebellious lawyering”…

“as architect of choosing…
choose. to. live.
awakened. entirely. wholly.

wildly powerful,
deeply masterful,
authentically creative,
this is not a hoped-for possible self.
[reminder: this is an immutable Law of your being]

needing not to learn the skill of being whole,
the antidote is to unlearn the habit of living incompletely

here’s the practice:

‘know thyself‘—its about spirit
righteousness is underrated
elevate connection with the changeless essence
seek similitude with the will of Source and will of self

‘choose thyself’—its about substance
sacred. sagacious. spacious.
in thought, word and deed—
intend to: honor virtue. innovate enthusiastically. master integrity.

‘become who you are’—its about style
a human, being an entrepreneur of life experiences
a human, being a purveyor of preferences
being-well with the known experience of soul, in service

your relationship with insecurities, contradictions, & failures?
obstacles or…invitations to grow?
[mindset forms manifestation]
emotions are messengers are gifts
data for discernment: dare to deconstruct them your fears

a belief renovation: fear.less.
& aspire towards ascendance, anyway
support your shine
lean into the Light



as architect of choosing, I choose…
to disrupt the energy of the status quo,
to eclipse the realms of ordinary,
& to live–a life-well lived.
w/ spirit, substance & style.”
― LaShaun Middlebrooks Collier