I'm watching a show where a divorce attorney is getting divorced and it's all his fault (and he knows it). I'm sure those of you who have seen it can guess what I'm talking about, but I'll try to keep it vague for those who haven't seen it. Anyway, he's the one who fucked up, he still loves his wife but can't stay married to her, he knows he hurt her, and he hates that he hurt her but that's the way things are.
So he starts out the divorce following the script he usually gives to his clients, which is to prioritize self-preservation on the assumption that the other person is his opponent. But she sits him down and points out that the person on the other side of the table is not one of his clients' "crazy ex-wives", but HIS wife. How does he want to handle this one?
He admits that he has no freaking idea. In all his years of being a divorce attorney, it has never once occurred to him that the person he is fighting is a human being with a shared history and complex emotions and that the person on his side of the table also has complex emotions about that other human being. In all his years as a divorce attorney, he has seen people at their worst, fighting for what they believe is their survival against an evil enemy but he has never thought that self-preservation might actually be counter-intuitive and cause exactly the sort of situation where self-preservation tactics are necessary.
So now he's facing his own wife across the table. Preemptively shutting down the accounts to prevent her from retaliatory spending didn't protect him from her vindictiveness, it made things worse. It hurt her and treated her like a criminal. It attacked her very sense of self as a decent person. It created self-doubt in both of them. It tarnished not just the memory of their marriage together, but even the love that they both still feel for each other behind all the pain.
That action actually changed the very nature of their relationship and their feelings towards each other and about themselves. That action was not the result of things changing, it was the catalyst.
But in their future, they won't remember it that way. They will see each other through this new lens, and that action will be representative of this new changed perception of each other, rather than the action *causing
* the change. Because that's how our memories work.
What would our world look like today if the entire divorce industry had been built up from a societal foundation of compassion instead of brutal self-preservation? I don't mean that self-preservation was thrown out the window and that everyone just rolled over and let people take advantage of them. I think that self-preservation is a natural extension of compassion, it's just that it takes different roads to reach that destination, and the destination is a prettier landscape than what the other road leads to.
What would our world look like today if divorce attorneys had a background in psychology that believed compassion should form the foundation of every interaction? Would there be more attempts by attorneys to reason with each other and their clients? Would law firms have mottoes espousing compassion, ethics, and dignity? Would law schools teach, in addition to the law, how to see others as fully formed human beings and how to see multiple perspectives?
Would divorce offices have couches and personal end tables for writing instead of large, domineering conference room tables where people square off against each other? Would everyone sit down in these comfortable but not vulnerable seats, and would the attorneys lean in and say to the future ex, "I'm so sorry this is happening. This must be very difficult for you. Let's try to work together to make this as painless and equitable as possible. Would you like some tea? Can I make you more comfortable? How is the temperature in here for you?" and would they make every effort possible to instruct their own clients to reign in their tempers, to give just a little bit more than they're getting, and teach them how to see things from their soon-to-be-ex's perspective?
And if this was the *norm*
for the divorce industry, not just individual practices existing here and there, what would the society that spawned this kind of industry look like?
We are all the heroes of our own story. Everything we do seems rational and justified from inside our heads, with the information that we have and the feelings that we have and the experiences that formed us and and the memories that we have created. If other people could only see from that specific perspective, they would also understand how rational and justified our positions are.
That doesn't mean that we are always *right
*. Our memories are faulty. Our information is incomplete. Our brains are subject to logical fallacies and flawed premises. The world in which we are operating is the way it is, and within that way, sometimes things have to be done that do not reflect the way we would like to see the world become but the way the world is. But from within that perspective, things look very different from outside that perspective. And, most of the time, with the situation being what it is, people are not unreasonable for making their choices from within that perspective.
When you're on the opposite side of the table from someone with a very different perspective, it can be difficult to remember that. This is not one of my strengths. I got the nickname Flame Warrior for a reason. I have a long history of burning people at the stake and razing forums to the ground. In each and every case, I felt justified in doing so. I have very good reasons for everything I've done. My compassion has always been reserved for the people on whose behalf I was doing the burning. It was from that very deep wellspring of compassion that I acted as I did, because it was held exclusively for the people whose side I was on, much like a divorce attorney going to the mat for a client. I put everything into the best defense for "my side" and fuck the other person for being on the opposite side in the first place. They were clearly wrong, that's why they were on the opposite side.
But what would the world look like if I was better at sitting down in one of those comfy chairs? I'm not naive. I identify far more with the Operative in Firefly than with most of the other characters (although I love the other characters more). He explained that he was there to do the hard, ugly work of creating his perfect world. When Mal snidely accused him of going to live in his perfect world after he's eliminated all the messiness, the operative said quite clearly that the perfect world was not for him. He was a monster. But a monster was what was needed to create the perfection for everyone else.
I don't believe I'm a monster, but I've never literally burned an entire colony of children and peaceful people just to hurt one man and get him to come out of hiding. My point is that there is no such thing as a perfect world and I don't believe that all conflicts can be solved in pleasant rooms with cushy chairs. Just look at any of our upper-tier "diplomatic talks" throughout history - they have plenty of cushy chairs to sit in and yet still they send other people out to die for abstract ideas like power and religion. Sometimes, we need a bulldog to defend us who will keep holding on until he wins.
But just what if? What if we were all taught how to see through different lenses? What if we all learned how to identify with those on the opposite side of a conflict with us? Without giving up a goal of putting more credence and weight to objective facts and metrics, what if we knew how to value other people's feelings and how we affected them? What would divorces look like then? What would political squabbles look like? What would social justice look like? What would our communities look like?
Every time I get into a conflict, if it's bad enough to require me to vent to my partners for some relief, tacit
has to butt into my ranting with "well, from their perspective..." It's infuriating. Not just because it's interrupting my momentum for a good rant, but because he's always so fucking right. And I hate having to learn that someone else has reason for what they're doing. It's so much easier to be pissed off at them when they're so clearly wrong and irrational and mean. It's so much easier to work myself into a righteous rage when they're malicious and evil and hateful.
And it's so damn irritating to have to acknowledge their humanity even while the objective facts still bear out that my side is the more correct side. When I'm right, I should be right, goddamnit, and they are just fucking wrong. It's much less satisfying to be right-but...tacit
makes me aspire to be a better person. Which I suppose he ought to, seeing as how he co-wrote the book on how to be an ethical person. And I fail often, but I am ever striving to do better. Which is all anyone can really hope for, honestly ... just to keep doing better. To keep seeing the humanity and the nuance in other people, especially those who I find myself opposite of in a conflict.
It doesn't mean that there are no "right ways" or "wrong ways", and it doesn't mean that even when I can see the other side that I am necessarily "wrong". But it informs how I treat the other side as people. Which makes me a better person for my own sake and the sake of those I interact with, no matter who is "right" and who is "wrong". Because I am not talking about who is "right", I'm talking about how to be *better
*. There can still be a "right" and a "wrong" side while the participants are practicing being their best selves. It just makes those sides more complex, richer, nuanced, and messier. And it also opens up the options for solutions because the sides are not black and white. There are more ways out of a conflict when it isn't an all-or-nothing brawl. Yes, even if only one side is seeing the situation in color and the other is still viewing it in monochrome, there are still more solutions available.
If I had taken my Breaking Up workshop as a teenager, what would my future had looked like? What kinds of mistakes would I have made differently? How many flame wars would I have engaged in, and what would their outcome have been? How many more minds could I have reached and more hearts could I have changed? Sure, some people need a bulldog to defend them still. But what could have been, had I started becoming a better person sooner and what could the world have been if we all had started becoming a better person sooner?
Cultural attitudes about seemingly small things can lead to massively different cultures because of their foundational nature, and some of them are simply objectively better than others even with their problems and flaws.
The idea of a collaborative divorce as an institution in the US is laughable. I can't even imagine it catching on as a thing, although I can imagine individual legal firms attempting to offer that kind of service. But divorce is *assumed
* to be adversarial, therefore it is. Any individual who bucks that trend is considered an exception, even a sideshow freak on the extreme end!
And I think that's symptomatic of a generally adversarial outlook. All of our conflicts are seen as adversarial, not collaborative. We so often immediately jump to opposing sides rather than individuals with similar goals but differences in opinions on how to obtain those goals.