The most interesting drill I ever saw at Gerry Spence's trial lawyer's college was the so-called milling exercise. This was a form of group dynamics that taught an important lesson: Strength is not chest-thumping. Silent laws transform strangers into a pack with discernible roles. They are laws because the behavior is predictable in any group.
It works something like this. Strangers in the room stand to make a general announcement of who they are one after another. The announcement is brief. Imagine this taking place in the loft of a very large barn, with 50 lawyers drawn from all over the nation each trying to put their best foot forward. Once all the introductions are made, folks are asked to stand and mill about the room, looking at nothing in particular. After a brief period, an announcement is made: Go and place a hand on the person you would most like to get to know.
Invariably, this sociometric exercise drew folks to several participants more than all the others. What did these magnets have in common? None was a powerhouse. Those who huffed and puffed about their prowess attracted few. It was those who showed vulnerability who drew others to themselves. Just why that happens is unclear to me. But it does. The group seemed to form around poles representing something like openness. Scoffers and braggarts had few followers.
I was reminded of this today while watching a meaningless debate go viral in the tiny universe known as the blawgosphere, those blogs written by and about lawyers. Distinctions without difference were drawn and celebrated. Lines were drawn. Ritual huffing and puffing was evidence. You see, the Slackoisie are being attacked. It is as if the folks who sought witches in Salem needed a parlor game to pass the twilight hours. Otherwise smart men and women are drawing distinctions without discernable difference.
I am still not sure what all the fuss is about. It all seemed to start with the conceit of older lawyers that the young are lazy, want something for nothing, and are sluggards, unworthy of respect. But this intergenerational twaddle is the same tune sung each generation when the old seek to assert a declining sense of dominance in the face of the claims of younger, more energetic claimants to life's limited fruits. This is mere tedium.
Each generation challenges the one that came before it with new attitudes, new techniques, new ways of approaching the time-tested way of doing things. So today, those in middle-age decry twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings as newbies without soul. "Oh, Edith," Archie Bunker sighs.
I have three kids in their twenties. Each has soul, although none has much experience in the broader world. We gave these children the shelter of our homes until they could walk on their own two feet and make choices for themselves. We have a budding doctor, a librarian in training, and a child wild with life's mad music. It does not occur to me to scorn them for their inexperience. In fact, I pity their inexperience and sit quietly by watching them solve the problems life presents to them. What can I learn about how to escape the grooves that define my path? They have as much to teach as to learn.
My law firm has lawyers in their 20s and 30s. Here, too, I see the challenge of a new day. I am the old one now. They look to me for ideas. I look to them for innovation. It is inconceivable that I should scorn them merely because they are young. They appear to want what I wanted when I was young. I suspect they will make many of the same mistakes I made, and continue to make. They aren't slackoisie; they are kids.
The blawgosphere seems like a vast milling exercise at Spence's ranch just now. There are no rules. This new social media is a new market, and each person writing here is learning his or her own style. Like it or not, everyone is engaged in social media networking here. Beware the ones who say they scorn it, but have perfected its arts.
This one is above the fray. Another plays at irritation day and night, scorning all in his path. Others turn their nose up at the scent of what they were not long ago. We're sorting ourselves, each strutting and trying to appear to be something to other members of the pack. We are a market of competing brands, some slicker than others and some seeking to persuade and dominate by denying the will to power. Woe is me.
Frankly, it saddens me. I've been spending time culling my links and connections on Twitter. I am fleeing the self-professed powers. Their boasts are empty and tinny, even pathetic. Indeed, these days the blawgosphere seems to have gone half mad. It wasn't enough to learn to share ideas and insights. We had to prove once again that the state of nature exists, and that in any forum without rules, there will be those who seek to transform their vices into a play at strength. To each king his lonely hill, I say. The glory here is that I do not have to watch.
Once again, I marvel at St. Augustine. He was on to something when he distilled a vision of our flawed character. We are defined by what we love, he said. These days, there isn't much to love about the blawgoshere. We are tilting at windmills and pretending the fuss is worth the bother. Plainly, it's not, and hence, it is time to look for new sources of inspiration. The old wells are running dry. It is a predicable pity, and it's not the fault of the so-called Slackoisie. We oldsters are doing it to ourselves.