Civility, Forgiveness and the Book of Life

ShanaTova-5775The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, is upon us.  On behalf of all Slaw Tips writers, l’shana tova – have a good year – to those of our readers who are celebrating.  A happy, healthy and prosperous 5775 to all.

Now, while I am by no means a pious person, I would like to reflect a bit on this important holiday’s lessons.

It is customary at this time of the Jewish calendar for each person to take stock of his or her actions, and to seek  – and offer – forgiveness for the wrongs committed, intentionally or inadvertently, personally or  professionally, in the year gone by.

This process, which culminates after ten days on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is among many things, an exercise in spiritual and moral cleansing, with the elimination of grudges and personal disputes a critical objective, as this commentary on a parable notes:

But my rabbi’s take was different. A misunderstanding had needlessly caused a terrible rift. “Never hold a grudge. By the time you’re ready to forgive, it may be too late.”

His message to us was clear: How can we expect God to forgive us when we refuse to forgive others?

(There have been serious technological advances in the art of seeking forgiveness, I should note.  The “forgiveness request” of this millennium could arrive via email, text or even Facebook)

Now, the legal profession has no similar process whereby practitioners are mandated annually to reach out to our colleagues to seek and offer  forgiveness for any offense or insult caused through our adversarial encounters in the year gone by.

Maybe that’s a shame.  Given all the talk we hear about incivility, an  annual, enforced timeout and “make-nice” intermission in the supposed “contact sport” of litigation might not be such a bad idea.

Aside from the few, truly bad apples among us (who simply can’t control themselves), I suspect that most instances of incivility between counsel arise from an unintended escalation of ill-will between practitioners who, in good faith, have simply been trying to do their jobs well under heated circumstances that unfortunately have caused interactions to get “personal.”

There is a way to break the cycle of acrimony, when it emerges.

Discuss it directly with your adversary.  Be direct, take responsibility and confront the situation objectively with a view to diffusing the conflict:

“Obviously, we aren’t getting along here.  The judges aren’t going to appreciate this and we certainly aren’t doing our clients any favours by bickering.

I’m sorry that I have offended you, and I am sure the feeling is mutual.

Can we work together to get this back on track?”

Which brings me to Today’s Tip:

Seek and offer forgiveness in our professional lives when our adversarial feathers are getting a bit ruffled.

Now there’s a concept.  And there’s no time like the present.

In the Jewish tradition, the outcome pursued through this annual process of reflection, cleansing, atonement and forgiveness is inscription in the book of life, or good fortune and well-being in the year ahead.

I’m sure we’d all be happy to have a bit of that in our personal lives – and in our professional practices.

So a closing wish to you all:  Gmar Chatimah Tova – May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good.

Happy 5775.

Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

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