f/k/a . . . the archives

January 16, 2009

phoenixes and beginner’s mind

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 12:50 am

reprise (from Dec. 13, 2007):
Marilou Awiakta says “I think most of what I learned about being a woman and a poet can be summed up in one poem”:

On Being a Female Phoenix

Not only do I rise
from my own ashes,
I have to carry them out!

by Marilou Awiakta, from Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom (Fulcrim Publishing, 1993)

.. Despite my allergy to Blawg Review themes, so many people have mentioned Susan Cartier Liebel‘s phoenix-themed version of Blawg Review #194, with its focus on innovation in the practice of law, that I had to head over there, even if belatedly.

Although there’s nothing new about the f/k/a Gang flying around from topic to topic, that’s what we’re gonna do in this post about fresh starts and fresh eyes.

January storm
last year’s snowbank
slowly whitens

………… by dagosan

Kinky’s Presidential Phoenix:  After Hurricane Katrina, former presidential candidate (and chronic comic, author, and canine rescuer) Kinky Friedman had a few words to say that I would like to recycle and edit slightly, as the GWBush Administration ends and Barrack Obama’s rises:

A Message from Kinky

I wish to express my sincerest sympathy to those who lost loved ones, homes, jobs or hope as a result of hurricane Katrina [8 years with George W. Bush as President]. We should keep in mind that from every tragedy emerges valuable knowledge for our future, allowing us to correct those things that didn’t work as well as they might have. There also arises a Phoenix-like renewal of faith in the human spirit, when people give of themselves and their resources to help.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

unemployed
the uneven edge
of a quahog shell

a spring wind
coins in the cup
of a sleeping beggar

……. by paul m.
“unemployed” – The Heron’s Nest Award (Sept. 2005)
“a spring wind” – The Heron’s Nest (June 2000)

Chuck Newton on Clear Speech: Blawg Review #194 and some of its fans have mentioned third-waver Chuck Newton’s weblog posting “Clarity (Or The Lack Thereof),” as a plea for lawyer innovation based on the use of plain English.  Chuck says:

“What is wrong with some lawyers (many lawyer) (maybe most lawyers).  We are suppose to be the epitome of argument and persuasion, and we just lack clarity.   Argument is not the opposite of clarity.  Clarity should be the basis for any good argument.”

He then skewers a lawyer he calls Bob for his lack of clarity in a telephone conversation that related to a settlement negotiation, where “The Defendant had previously offered $2,000.00 to resolve the matter and I countered at $4,000.00.  The cuss never had the resolve to call or email me back as promised, so I called him.”  Here’s the core of the discussion:

Chuck: “Where do we stand on the settlement offer”.

Bob: “Presently, all I have authority for is $2,000.00″.

Chuck: “What does that mean, Bob?”

Bob: “What do I mean?  I do not know how I can be more clear”.

As an early proponent and practitioner of mediation, I agree with Chuck that gamesmanship is rarely good negotiation.  But, I’m not at all sure that the problem with Bob was lack of clarity.   Here’s my take:

  • This is not a “Plain English and Lawyers” issue. The Plain English in the Law movement is about “legal information without the legalese.”  See Adam Freedman’s Party of the First Part weblog.  When legalese is not the cause of the lack of clarity, we’re in the realm of everyday unclear, obtuse bad writing or speech.
  • Bob seems to me to have said exactly what he meant — and to use words that had the correct connotation and denotation for the context.  He told Chuck loud and clear that he could not go above $2000 at that time.  For Chuck, the problem was that he was not hearing what he wanted to hear, and the negotiation was not progressing, but that is different from blaming unclear speech.  Indeed, Bob really wasn’t using “argument” either — he wasn’t trying to explain his situation, and indeed did not want to explain.
  • Unclear on Purpose: Thirty years ago, in a minor management position at the Federal Trade Commission and as a supervising attorney, I reviewed the work of hundreds of lawyers — usually memos in which they were trying to persuade the Commission to sue somebody or pass a particular rule.  It very quickly became clear to me — even using my neophyte cross-examination skills — that lawyers writing ambiguous or otherwise unclear sentences were almost always hiding something.  They didn’t want to lie, but they were willing to fudge and obfuscate, in the hope that no one would notice that the facts or the law weren’t quite as strong as they were insisting.  Despite Bob’s answering Chuck’s direct question by saying he had so spoken with his client about the $2000 offer, I would not be the least bit surprised to hear that, in fact, he had not, and that was why he could not go higher than his client’s first offer.

Yes, we need more Plain English from lawyers (who need to remember their audience), and in our laws and regulations.  Yes, win-win negotiation is usually in the best interests of our clients (and our sanity), while zero-sum negotiations using gamesmanship is often counterproductive, and not (despite what some swaggering and blustering attorneys seem to believe) the sign of Lawyer Mastery.  But, gamesmanship is not necessarily an example of unclear use of the English language.  If you want to improve your Plain English skills and your general ability to write clearly, see Adam Freedman’s essay “Can I Write Plain English?“.

………………. Fresh Eyes and Beginner’s Mind:  Susan Cartier Liebel picked a winner when she included “Fresh Eyeglasses” (What About Clients, Jan. 7, 2009) in her list of recent posting worth noting, and she was clearly right when she said:

“Sometimes innovation comes from simply putting on ‘Fresh Eyeglasses‘.” In another wonderful post over at What About Clients, Dan Hull talks about his ideal:

“Few of us can have Albert Einstein’s talent for Western logic, or IQ. But Einstein’s advantage over other physicists may have been that he was a “new soul”; he looked at everything as if he were seeing it for the first time.

“Work. He approached it from a wellspring of joy. There are others like him in that respect. Those are the kind of people I want as friends to inspire me, and as co-workers to solve clients’ problems. I’ll take an IQ a lot lower than Einstein’s (for associates, though, Coif or Law Review would be nice). Reverence and a child’s awe. That’s the outlook I prize. Energy, intensity and creativity always seem to come with it.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

blind date
she never mentions
my stripes and plaids

… by dagosan

Despite my sitting on Einstein’s lap thirty years ago, and writing and sharing haiku for over 5 years, I surely haven’t yet figured out yet how to see the world every day with “fresh eyes,” nor how to bring joy to my work (much less to infect others with joyous wellbeing).

.. But, Dan Hull’s praise for fresh eyes and new souls reminded me of the related (and perhaps nearly identical) characteristic taught and lived by many zen teachers: Beginner’s Mind.  I know virtually nothing about zen, but I have known from the moment I heard about beginner’s mind that working toward it is a journey I need to take in my far-too-opinionated and judgmental life.  And, finally giving up weblog punditry — which, frankly, brings me little joy — is probably where I need to start.

The tagline of the Beginner’s Mind weblog is this quote:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi

Here’s a beautiful description of Beginner’s Mind, that I hope will whet your appetite (and re-kindle mine). It’s an excerpt from “A Lecture on Beginner’s Mind” by Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman (emphases added), to a class of zen students:

“Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgements and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as-it-is.” I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. “I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?” Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgement, just asking “what is it?

” . . . I don’t know about you, but when I started to sit [in zazen meditation] I really began to see how many fixed ideas and fixed views I had. How much judgment was ready right on the tip of my tongue. How much expectation, how much preconception I was carrying around with me all the time, and how much it got in the way of actually noticing what was happening. I don’t want to tell you that after thirty years I’m free of all that, but at least I notice it sooner and I sometimes don’t get caught in believing it.

” . . . In her poem “When Death Comes,” Mary Oliver has a few lines that say, “When it’s over, I want to say I have been a bride married to amazement, I’ve been a bridegroom taking the world into my arms.” This is beginner’s mind: “I’ve been a bride married to amazement.” Just how amazing the world is, how amazing our life is.  . . . This is our effort. This is our work. Just to be here, ready to meet whatever is next without expectation or prejudice or preconceptions. Just “What is it?” “What is this, I wonder?”

“So please, cultivate your beginner’s mind. Be willing to not be an expert. Be willing to not know. Not knowing is nearest. Not knowing is most intimate. . ..”

naughty child–
instead of his chores
a snow Buddha

“Gimme that moon!”
cries the crying
child

….. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

this summer night—
she lets the firefly glow
through the cage of her fingers

in both hands–
the water she carries
from the ocean

…. by Gary Hotham from breathmarks: haiku to read in the dark

Tonko Rises Again and the Gazette Reiterates:  Congratulations to Paul Tonko, (Dem.-NY. – 21st Distrist), my new Congressman.  After two dozen years in the NYS Assembly, Paul resigned in 2007 to become President and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).  At the time, I think he considered his days seeking and serving in elective office to be behind him.  But, the surprise retirement of Mike McNulty from Congress opened up a much-coveted seat, and brought Paul Tonko’s political career back to life in a new form.

I’ll be keeping tabs on Cong. Tonko’s new career, and I hope he manages to bring both his lifetime of experience and a beginner’s mind to Washington.  But, tonight (despite my having just written about cultivating non-judgmental Beginner’s Mind) I want to note a phenomenom related to his new job that I have never seen in a half century of reading newspapers: The Schenectady Daily Gazette apparently thought it so important that “Tonko snags House panel slots in science, education” (by Edward Munger, Jr.), it printed the 12-column-inch article in full on both page B2 and the facing page B3 in the January 15, 2009 printed edition.  Why, however, it simultaneously failed to post the article at its website, I cannot say.

after renting the house
moon-gazing there…
twice

my world–
rice pounding echoes
over evening snow

….. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

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