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October 19, 2009

What one admired Brit says about Yanks.

The world, unfortunately, is much like a playground at a third-rate junior high school in a mixed neighborhood.

"Unbounded confidence and undeniable resilience of the American psyche." Many non-US nations--and their citizens in all walks of life--"resent" the United States. We saw that sentiment rise again in mid-2003, when America invaded Iraq. Talent, verve and energy, wrong-headed or not, is threatening to those with less of it. These qualities make people way nervous. But Americans, too, "resent" one another. We are hardly immune from the small-mindedness that often colors our world.

Human nature, I guess. No one wants to feel uncomfortable around the force, energy, talent, resources and self-confidence of those that have it, and often flaunt it in subtle ways.

It's worse if you sense, imagine or observe that the World's Alpha Entities--nations or individuals--are constantly in your face. Hey, if you're of the paranoid persuasion, it's like they are even laughing at you. At you, and at all your friends and family, Jack. The Romans were feared and hated in every country they commandeered. The problem (gulp) was that they were very good for several centuries at what they were doing. You had to give them credit for that.

Think about American towns and cities where people routinely deride outsiders who have accomplished much in "bigger ponds". Note the traditional irrational "fear" of New York City, America's hands-down best town, and New Yorkers. The fact that many New Yorkers are aggressive and often overbearing can't defeat the truth that the city is brimming over talent and ideas. Same with LA and DC.

There have been petty jealously-fests everywhere since the beginning of history. Talent, truth and quality--especially when served up with energy--makes people nervous. Better to surround yourself with "like-minded" people than be made to feel nervous about the fact that you will not or cannot grow to a higher plane. Yes, be comfortable at all costs.

The world, unfortunately, is much like a playground at a third-rate junior high school in a mixed neighborhood. And Americans--ranging from (a) the quietly great to (b) the mouthy mediocre--are still part of all that. Re: the latter group, which is legion, America--for all its greatness and promise--indeed has its moments as a world headquarters for sour grapes, insecurity and moral pretension.

These days, we are drowning in all manner of jack-asses who need to be right 100% of the time on everything from the primacy of Jesus to whether an airline employee is a stewardess, stew, flight attendant, flying waitress or in-flight server. (Some lawyers even freak out over "Chinese wall"--a useful term more quickly understood than Asian wall.)


Lawyers--supposedly seekers and guardians of truth, the architects of business and officers of the court--lie to clients, courts and each other out of habit.

Manners, professionalism and "appearances" are Everything.

Directness, facts, honesty and efficiency are Besides The Point.

Consider lawyers who proclaim loudly and self-righteously that profanity is "unprofessional". Yours truly loves to swear, and forcefully, at the right times. I am heavily involved in the "let's restore real people-speak to the workplace" movement because not using your real speech, especially among lawyers, is phony, prissy, a hypocrisy. Sue me, folks. I am ready for you.

But spoliation of evidence, compromising clients with half-assed work, lying to clients about the true status and quality of projects and positions taken, and making "Eddie Haskell" overtures with adversaries and courts--a sad if amusing "lawyers club" standard--is just biz as usual.

Clients, not adversaries, to many of us, are the enemy; clients are scammed more than anyone, and routinely. My take: lawyers spend as much time hiding their mistakes from their clients, and fighting with them, as they do serving them. Most of us should have never entered the profession. We are not up to it. It is too hard.

Lots of lawyers--maybe a majority--never get it. The law is not a club for white guys who are smart enough to do personal injury cases, walk and chew gum at the same time, and wear decent suits at lunch. It's a service industry, Jack. Most lawyers--in America, we are a dime a dozen--aren't that important. Get used to it.

And it's not of course just Western Law Cattle that's the problem. Consider America's often-intolerant and increasingly shrill Extreme Religious Right. Consider our often-mindless Overly-PC Left (i.e., many blue state residents who are supposedly better educated than the religious right and should know better) that has apparently abandoned the First Amendment in an effort to make people think and talk just like them.

A nation of phonies? A culture that ignores complexity and nuance? A people who fear quality--and even fight it?

You want to see insecurity, irony and hypocrisy out the Wazoo? Look to America. Look to lawyers. Look to other white collar execs and pros. Yes, look to all the world. But take a hard look at you and yours. And get some standards. Keep revisiting your integrity. Demand something better of yourselves and others.

Are you seeing and telling the truth?

Brit Richard Lewis at Cross-Culture tells the truth--whether it is popular on his own tribal playground or not. He does not shy way from tackling and sorting out complexity and ambiguity. He does not preach. He is a man who was "global" before global was cool. He is an exception to the "talent + energy makes me nervous" pattern.

Lewis knows who he is, knows the world in all its wonderful variety, and knows--and admires--us Yanks, warts and all. You see it again and again in his writings.

Read "A Country that Can".

Posted by JD Hull at October 19, 2009 12:12 PM



Didn't "Directness, facts, honesty and efficiency" go out of fashion well before Machiavelli put pen to paper?

Robert Greene's 48 Rules of Power makes this point very well, many believe. Let me know if you want to read the book and I will send you a copy and you can re-think.

As Greene writes, "Everything must appear to be civilized, decent, democratic, and fair. But if we play by those rules too strictly, if we take them to literally, we are crushed by those around us who are not so foolish."

If you curse, when you are weakest and most vulnerable, someone will us that to hurt you or your business or both.

You write that you know that, "Lawyers--supposedly seekers and guardians of truth, the architects of business and officers of the court--lie to clients, courts and each other out of habit." If things are as you say, you appear to need a PITNEY BOWES for all the letters you should be sending to bar counsel.

A really really great lawyer I know likes to say to clients, "Lies are evidence." A good lawyer accepts this and moves on, knowing that what is most important in practicing law in knowing when to use the truth. Loophole Henry, a pretty good country lawyer, would say that care has to be taken not to use too much truth, for truth is so overpowering.

Posted by: Moe L. Davidson at October 19, 2009 09:43 PM

Bravo! An inspiring write for anyone. A well put challenge for everyone. We need to stop looking at our neighbors to find excuses for ourselves. Integrity needs to be revisited often, otherwise it gets lost and forgotten.

"Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." ~ Albert Einstein

Posted by: Rebecca Hoffman at October 20, 2009 02:09 PM

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