Monday Morning Message 8.27.2018: "No, Ma’am. No, Ma’am."

Posted 2018-08-27 10:57am

“Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect as so long as our character merits respect and as long as we share for all our differences, for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold - that all are created equal, and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all.” - John McCain, The Restless Wave

Arizona Senator John McCain died Saturday, nine years to the day after the same cancer killed his friend and colleague, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. They were fierce political adversaries. They were also friends. Why? Because both understood, in the spirt of the founders of our nation, that even as we zealously advocate for our positions and views, we must remain committed to civility.

They weren’t afraid to reach out across the aisle and show bipartisanship on issues like immigration. Today, especially in our national politics, legislators talk past each other, deliberately ignoring points of agreement for fear of losing political points and advantage.

John McCain understood that civility is not just being polite; nor is it about an absence of conviction or ideology or moderating or diluting your views to please others; it is about respecting and trying to understand others’ differing views and their right to express them.

America is deeply divided, leaving us in digital echo chambers and ideological cul de sacs. Too many of us live in a bubble. We engage in what is called “confirmation bias.” That is, we search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our own preconceptions. We actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms our views, and ignore or under weigh evidence that contradicts or challenges our views.

When I spoke to our first year class during orientation, I expressed my opinion that the single most important skill a lawyer must have is, in the words of Steven Covey, “to seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Virtually every conflict, argument, and divorce can be traced down to just one thing- not listening.

We teach our students to solve problems and disputes and to advocate for their clients. In order to be effective advocates and problem-solvers, they must be able to step outside the constraints of their own immediate, biased frames of reference and understand the viewpoints of not only their clients but also their adversaries.

That’s one of the reasons we send each student who is admitted to C|M|LAW, a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Atticus Finch says, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

We facilitate free expression and foster a culture where our students learn not only in the classroom but also through honest engagement and respectful discourse and dialogue. We foster a supportive, respectful, responsive environment where we welcome and celebrate diverse viewpoints but where we share common values. 

We also believe that great lawyer-leaders advocate for justice and stand up to injustice. Hence, our mission of Learn Law. Live Justice.

In October 2008, when the presidential campaign between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama became very heated, there was a seminal moment. Campaigning in a suburb of Minneapolis at a town hall event, an elderly woman began to say to Senator McCain that she didn’t like Mr. Obama because he is an Arab.

McCain took back the microphone from her. " No Ma'am. No Ma'am.", McCain said. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have serious differences with on fundamental questions.” He later added, “We want to fight, and I want to fight, but we will be respectful. . . . That doesn’t mean you have to reduce your ferocity. It’s just got to be respectful.”

That was perhaps Senator John McCain’s finest moment, and an example of not only civility, but also living justice. The constitutional right of free speech allows all ideas to be spoken, no matter how hateful they may be. John McCain understood that we should also claim that same right to voice our rejection and stand up to such hateful ideas and vehemently oppose hate, intolerance, and bigotry.

Have a great week.

My best,

Lee

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My views in all my Monday Morning Messages are my personal views alone and do not reflect the views of our Law School or our University.

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