WE NEED LAWYERS TO MODERATE DEBATES,By Louise Annarino, October 8,2012

8 Oct

WE NEED LAWYERS TO MODERATE DEBATES, By Louise Annarino,October 8,2012


Yesterday, I discussed the need to identify and challenge bullying behavior in the workplace,at school, and on debate stages. While it may be impossible for human beings to refrain from aggression and dominance, such behavior can be restrained and redirected in positive ways. This is called the process of civilization. While some Americans made treaties and sought peaceful sharing of mother earth with Native Americans as they moved across new frontiers and ancient tribal grounds, others on both sides bullied their way, breaking treaties and attacking each other. When rules are allowed to be easily broken, when little is done to enforce them, when rule-breakers win without censure, nations and civilizations are destroyed.


The core restraints against bullies are rules. Rules must be established and enforced to restrain aggression and dominance. Every mother knows this. Every mother tames her children with rules, redirects their innate desire to dominate their world with rules. As a child matures into civility, she hopes empathy will take over her role as matron of rules. A mother can relax a bit once her child has learned good manners; but only if the child also has developed empathy. Some are incapable of empathy; some so privileged they do not believe rules apply to them. These persons must be compelled to follow rules even more closely in order not to abuse their innate drive to dominate and overpower others. Such persons abuse such power if their aggression is not contained within the rules, nor redirected by their own empathy.


When I was 18 I developed and directed a playground in small town inner-city neighborhood. The neighborhood’s poverty level was similar to my own. While it was predominately African-American, my own was predominately new immigrant. Neither viewed positively by the larger populace of the town. Each difficult to escape. Immigrants could eventually escape with education and very hard work; African-Americans could not escape even with education and very hard work due to red-lining real-estate transactions and discrimination. Each neighborhood had their share of bullies, as I am certain the wealthier white neighborhoods did as well. They must have because I met those bullies in college, in law school, and in the workplace.


It was easy to identify the bullies by their easy but tight smiles, chest-leading swagger and rapid fire delivery of directives and demands. When I questioned them they lied for the joy of misleading me. When I challenged them, they accelerated their verbal barrage against me, for the joy of dominating the conversation. When I held them to the rules, they became louder and more animated, for the joy of undermining my authority. And, they never stopped smiling those tight smiles. To diminish my personal or positional power, they demeaned me in front of others, passed false rumors regarding my character, and claimed my accomplishments as their own. I know bullies intimately.


To keep the other children and myself safe from the bullies, the neighborhood gang stayed nearby and moved in when the bullies became too aggressive. I did two things to address this situation. First, I organized a neighborhood election (parents and neighbors could also vote) for a Playground Congress to make rules, which selected a Playground Supreme Court to decide when rules had been broken and ordered punishment for rule-breakers, which selected a Playground Chief of Police to enforce the rules and punishment, and who selected his Playground Police Patrol. Congress made rules such as no knives, no guns, no matches, no drugs, no fighting, no cursing, no stealing. The Supreme Court selected the lead bully as Chief of Police. The Chief of police picked his adherents as police officers. The bully was now commissioned to abide by and enforce the rules, with assurance the Court would mete out justice. The aggression and need to  dominate of our bully was contained within rules and his energies redirected. He was incapable of empathy, but we had a means of civilizing his need to dominate and control others.


Fights were handled following my suggestion. Those whose arguments became either verbally or physically violent were sentenced to “the ring”. While I laced up miscreants’ boxing gloves, the leader of our local gang who agreed to manage the fight (who better able?) read the Queensbury Rules to the combatants. It was his job to keep the fight within the rules and assure no blows caused harm to either combatant. To say this was a novel approach for him is a gross understatement. However, he handled his role with the strong leadership qualities he displayed as a well-respected gang leader. He, like all good leaders, was not a bully. He was calm, reserved, soft-spoken, and saved his smiles for those surprising moments of utter hilarity which frequently erupt in the presence of young children. Watching these kids try to connect a punch wearing boxing gloves they could barely hold up created such fun that their arguments and need to fight quickly dissipated, while we all laughed together.


Looking back, I think I became a lawyer not because I like rules, but because I hate them. I hate the need for them. But I respect what rules,what the RULE OF LAW, can accomplish. It can civilize a nation. It can contain a bully. This is what The 10 Commandments are for Jews, their early rule of law. When Jesus was asked, “Rabbi, what is the greatest commandment?” He answered that there is but ONE commandment, “That you love one another, even as God loves you.” This requires empathy. When empathy fails, when one person just doesn’t “get” the other, only rules can replace empathy and create civility. Maybe we need lawyers to moderate debates.



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