On lawyers, power and Nelson Mandela

I have, not surprisingly, been musing about lawyers, after the death of one of my heroes.

Nelson Mandela was, of course, so much more than a lawyer but he did practice law for many years. And I notice that several outstanding individuals who fought for social justice previously practised as lawyers. Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela, Fidel Castro (!), Thatcher (oh no, forget that last one…). Is this just chance?

It seems to me that it is, in part at least, to do with power. As a lawyer you get to see how power dynamics play out in society. This has a couple of consequences – it gives you power in your own right (the power of knowledge) and it obliges you to make a choice about where to place yourself – on the side of the oppressors or the oppressed. Read more

Small Truths, Big Lies

“Did you clean your teeth, Lucas?” “Erm, yes.”

”Are you sure?” “Erm, no” “Go and clean them please.”

My son, I’m glad to say, is a pretty poor liar. It is written all over his face. It is also, in general, pretty easy to test if he is telling the truth. If we suspect he did not clean his teeth, we can simply check his toothbrush, and the mere suggestion that we will do this tends to make him admit the truth.

His lies tend to be small lies – the sort that most scandals in our society are about. ”Did you sleep with her?” “Did you tap those phones?” “Did you say such and such to so-and-so?” When people with power tell little lies, we get very excited. If it can be proved that they told a lie, they often lose their post (Bill Clinton was threatened with impeachment for lying about having sex in the White House. It wasn’t so much the sex that got him into trouble, it was the suggestion that he had lied about it). Read more

In praise of wildness

A thought came to me while strolling this morning through an orderly, well managed village in the Rheinland Pfalz area of Germany where my “schwieger-eltern” (parents-in-law) live. Most of the plots are carefully controlled environments where no plant can grow without permission. Paths are neat and run in straight lines. Concrete predominates. There are few trees, but bushes grown in carefully mulched borders.

It seems to me that our efforts to manage and control our environment, to keep wildness out, are mirrored by our efforts to control our own inner wildness. We are scared of what we might unleash if we let our own tiger loose. So rather than risk it, we keep our inner tiger, our inner rain forest, tightly leashed
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