Mindfulness is Not Complacency

CompassionLast week in a newsletter, in response to President Trump’s “fire and fury” statement against North Korea, I wrote that instead of meeting difficulty with thoughtfulness, justice, and compassion, we’re seeing reactivity and hate. I called our national leadership, “un-mindful.”

One member of the mindfulness-in-law community said that I’d missed the point. “We need to be less critical of the people we elect,” she wrote back. “Using your criticism to call yourself mindful seems unmindful.” Another 110 members unsubscribed from our newsletter.

Today, Kenneth Frazier, a black, Harvard-educated lawyer and the CEO of Merck, resigned from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in response to Trump’s “many sides” tweet about Charlottesville. Mr. Frazier tweeted that our country’s strength stems from its diversity, and that our leaders must “honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hate, bigotry and group supremacy.”

In response, Trump publicly criticized Mr. Frazier’s work at Merck.

Trump’s choice to not call out the inherent bigotry and violence of white supremacy, is the same choice Trump made in response to the Minnesota mosque bombing: silence in the face of violence and hatred.

Are my criticisms unmindful? Are Kenneth Frazier’s words of resignation unmindful? I don’t think so.

Yes, mindfulness is about calming and steadying the mind. It’s about relieving suffering by being in the moment rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

But mindfulness is also about cultivating states of mind that are essential in society, today and always. Thoughtfulness, justice, and compassion: all of these qualities of mind are available to us, and mindfulness is about doing the work to make those our default states of mind.

It takes time to do this. But we need to take that time, and make that effort. And as lawyers, we are especially obligated to do that.

Even if we practice in small communities or for individuals or small businesses, our work is far-reaching and our influence, great. We have a moral obligation to train ourselves to lead with thoughtfulness, justice and compassion. Certainly if we practice on a state or national stage, we absolutely must follow the example of people like Mr. Frazier, and lead with our values, and from those perspectives.

When we fail to cultivate thoughtfulness, justice, and compassion, we are at the mercy of other human emotions and states of mind, like anger, greed, and confusion. Mr. Frazier could have retained his position on the American Council of Manufacturers, and said and done nothing in response to Charlottesville, and no one would have criticized him. In the same way, any corporate lawyer can represent a company aligned with hatred, or focused on greed. Any criminal defense lawyer can hold up the constitutional ideal that everyone is entitled to counsel, and then accept representation of an individual charged with violence against people of color, members of targeted faiths, women, immigrants, or any number of other “others.” Any of us can get confused between justice and compassion, on the one hand, and supporting a lifestyle, on the other. Any of us can choose complacency, especially if we are white and Christian and safe.

Mindfulness is not complacency. Mindfulness is the intentional cultivation of thoughtfulness, justice, and compassion. It is the commitment to bring those qualities of mind and heart to every moment, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so, or it means losing a client or saying no to a high profile case or living a little differently. Mindfulness is not complacency. It is stabilizing the mind and lowering stress, yes, but it is also, fundamentally, the scientifically proven practices that cultivate attunement, compassion, and justice.

The most important tweet of the past few days was mostly lost in the madness. It came from former President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela. The quote was, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Mindfulness is about learning or re-learning thoughtfulness, compassion, and justice. It is not complacency. Even for lawyers – especially for lawyers – mindfulness is learning to love.

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Judi Cohen

Judi Cohen formed Warrior One and created Essential Mindfulness for Lawyers®, nationally recognized for its originality and excellence in integrating traditional mindfulness, groundbreaking neuroscience and the science and psychology of the legal mind. Judi has presented to a wide range of global, U.S. and local firms, in-house legal departments, bench and bar associations, legal conferences, and law schools. Read More