Suicide..after all the “townspeople assembled and leveled their stern regards.” -Hawthorne

 

pale blue dot blogThis morning’s London Times greeted us with news of a second political suicide, (literally not metaphorically) in the United Kingdom after a labour party leader’s transgressions with pornography were revealed.  Rather than face the tsunami of publicity now surrounding personal and morally repugnant deviance, he chose to end his life.

I am reminded of Hawthorne’s classic novel that unveiled some of the more sordid aspects of “rule of law” in colonial America. In modern times, the harsh scrutiny that faced Hester Prynne by “God-fearing gentlemen” seemed disproportionate, over-the-top.  But, as Hawthorne wrote, she accepted that “these were her realities, all else vanished.”

In our time too, the autumn of 2017 will be remembered as the time when for the many whose moral compasses lost their calibration, all else vanished.  In the United Kingdom, it is not the show business glitterati who are under the microscope, rather the politicos have been caught in the wave of revelations that have gripped America for the last several weeks.

Lest my words be conjured to signal sympathy for those whose transgressions are toppling their worlds, know this–that is hardly the case. But neither is it the case that I will blindly get caught up in the wave that would pronounce guilt by numbers. If one person speaks out, there exists the possibility of truth, if several speak out, there is the likelihood of truth and if many speak out, certainty has been achieved and any trial thereafter is a mere formality.

As Miss Prynne walked among the “gazes of unrelenting eyes” there was a critical difference between the scorn she was subjected to and the scorn greeting modern day transgressors. Her walk was part of a sentence after a trial–albeit a trial that may not have itself met all the transparency one has come to regard as the norm in a civilized society. But, nevertheless,  the public humiliation to which she was subjected was at the very least, meted out in the aftermath of the determination of guilt.

It should exceed worrisome when suicide starts to precede the words arrest, charge andcaveat-emptor trial.  Caveat Emptor…the distance traveled from accusation to guilt-by-public-opinion, in cases where other moral issues are at play (like say ideologies or religious beliefs) can become alarmingly short.

Finally one admonition, which sadly requires mentioning. I am a woman. I know that there is much merit in many of the voices that have bravely spoken out, and needn’t have to say more for you to accept that my perspective is an informed one. But, I am also a lawyer and when the integrity of the legal process is on the verge of compromise,  the depth of all our concern should be unfathomable.

 

 

 

The Observation Effect: The Fear of Not Filtering

Its been sometime since I published this blog. Mind you, not for lack of thoughts and ideas I was willing to share, but more due to the discovery that my blog was likely being monitored by litigants with an interest in  generating inferences where none were intended.  I have decided to blog again, this time influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by a recognition that it might be read by a more diverse spectrum of readers than I had originally anticipated.

You might think, don’t all writers, especially those who publicly publish their work expect to be observed? And do not authors expect to have their writings criticized?  All that is true, but at least this former trial lawyer oftentimes tempers speech through a courtroom lens. On a fairly regular basis I query myself: “How would this sound in a trial transcript?” Or, “What kind of cross examination would this comment generate?  And, “How would I rebut the inferences from this or that remark?”

Familiar with how words may come to haunt someone, many people, I think, reachdoubleslit1 a point where commentary is more and more measured– mindful of how one’s words might be construed in an entirely unrelated context, years from when they were originally uttered. At work is a sort of personal  iteration of the “observation effect” alluded to by quantum scientists–considering what one wants to say (the particle), observing the two slits ahead (what you mean and what someone else might construe you to mean) and the “interference”–your inner voice modifying the words and modifying  the thought process that generated them–resulting in the original thought differently (and more safely) expressed.

Politicians engage in this process fairly regularly. And, those politicos who don’t, probably should.  When I read my grandfather’s travel diaries, he often “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the next generation of readers directly with comments like, “Your grandmother looked beautiful tonight.” His descriptives were careful and measured, in a way one might not expect of a “diary.” He was masterful at filtering. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words, so carefully constructed, are what is left for the next generation who barely knew him, if at all.

My own return to blogging was spurred by a reader who recently reached out hoping that the failure to post this last year was not due to any misfortune. So touched was I, that I decided to resume writing,  with some modest filtering.

But, I wonder whether  in this age of fact-checking and instant and meticulous googling, coupled with fear of not-filtering,  will we lose grasp of the genuine? Will the process of change, growth and progress be inhibited by the apprehension that one’s unfiltered words will return to haunt them?

Will we not be able to trace a writer’s or public speaker’s transitions of thought over time, as we do the evolution of the artist or composer? Will the time come when we all filter, out of necessity, abandoning the spontaneous and mud-luscious in this puddle-cummings_quote_spring2
wonderful world?

I am reminded of what a senior judge once counseled when I could not overcome opposing counsel’s recurring objection to my leading examination of a witness: “Say this, ‘And then what…'”?

Happy Vernal Equinox. Glad to be back.