In law school students are encouraged to see both sides of any particular argument. This happens in both the classroom and the hands-on exercises such as appellate advocacy and trial practice. Another good example is moot court competitions in which two teams of future lawyers conduct a mock trial designed with relatively equal facts for both the plaintiff and defendant. Over the course of a competition, teams are required to experience both sides of the hypothetical case as they progress from round to round through tournament-style brackets.
In our capitalist, sports-crazed American culture, we exist under the belief there must be winners and losers. In fact, throughout the course of my career, I have been known to say I sometimes wear the “white hat” and I sometimes wear the “black hat.” In other words, I am sometimes on the “good” side of a case and other times I am on the “bad” side of a case. The problem with this statement is its basis upon the premise that one can actually win a divorce or family conflict. When families fall apart, everyone loses something. As I continue to grow as a person and a practitioner, I am beginning to appreciate the concept of dualistic versus non-dualistic thinking, especially in the context of human interactions. This has led me to consider that maybe there is no good side or bad side of a case, but rather different but equally valuable opinions about the same set of circumstances.
Let me explain. Beginning in childhood, we learn to characterize things by comparison/contrast. Some people are tall and some people are short. Some days are good and some days are bad. Some things are interesting and others boring. Unfortunately, when we categorize things in this way, we miss the kaleidoscope of possibilities in between, which is where we all actually live… somewhere in the middle.
Friar Richard Rhor has written a great deal on this subject. This article was inspired in large part by this video. He says the dualistic mind is binary. It rationalizes in terms of either/or as opposed to both/and. We learn to make sense of things by comparison, opposition, and identifying how they are different. Our mind uses expressive words like good or evil, pretty or ugly and smart or stupid, not realizing the many nuances between the two ends of each identified spectrum. Dualistic thinking works well for simple things, but not for the sake of universal truths or the vast subtlety of actual personal experience. Most of us settle for quick and easy answers instead of engaging any deep perception, which we tend to leave to artists, poets, philosophers and in some instances to a much lesser degree, our lawyers.
A classic example of this in divorce is infidelity. Because most people in the world agree infidelity is immoral, when a party to a marriage has committed adultery, the conclusion we draw is the infidelity caused the divorce. This can often be a very narrow-minded approach, as most seasoned divorce attorneys will tell you, infidelity is usually a symptom of an already diseased marriage – i.e., the nail in the coffin. Interestingly, when couples seek emotional healing from the trauma associated with an affair, they often find their way back to each other based upon the intimacy created when two people are truly vulnerable and reveal the essence of the person their personality hides. Indeed, just because a person does a bad thing does not mean he or she is inherently bad. Non-dualistic thinkers observe things for what they are as opposed to what our preconceived notions say they ought to be.
This becomes complicated because those things or concepts with which we are comfortable, i.e., things we have experienced or are familiar with and therefore find to be non-threatening, get confused with “truth.” But what is true, however, in the mind of an individual, is indeed a matter of perception. And our perception is the culmination of the strategies we have developed in order to “safely” navigate the world. Simply put, while some things are black and white, there are infinite shades of gray in between.
The enneagram personality typing system explains these concepts as well. The enneagram teaches there are nine basic ways of experiencing the world. In other words, our core motivations and personality create language for our specific experience –our “truth.” But in actuality our truth is only 40 degrees of the field of vision for any one particular experience. (360°/9 personality types = 40° of vision). That is why two different people can experience and testify to the same exact moment in time in vastly different ways.
As lawyers, we are trained to be advocates for our clients’ 40° field of vision, but the true art of law practice, and the human experience as well, is to acknowledge there are many other ways of seeing. We should challenge ourselves to not only be respectful and curious about other ways of seeing, but to learn and grow and seek what is not merely our limited perception, but that which is universally true.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling and is learning to be a nondualistic thinker. An enneagram 8, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. Over the course of his career he has worked with multiple nationally and internationally known high profile individuals. He is strategic, collaborative, creative and extremely competitive. He will direct you to journey the path of health and wholeness despite your circumstances.