Peacemaker Essays

The following are essays on peacemakers and peacemaking that Brad published in the Snohomish County Bar News monthly during 2011.  If you would like to download a collation of all twelve essays, subject to the use rules prescribed on its first page, click Peacemaker Series.

Peacemakers #1:  Red Bird

Our judge delivered her oral decision.  Black robes swished as she bustled out.  This hellish divorce trial had raged for ten days, spread, due to senseless wrangling, over ten weeks. Exhausted, opposing counsel and I rocked back in our courtroom chairs, sore from their dead padding and torn upholstery.  Counsel glared at me, war-weary:  “The one upside here is that I will never have to see you again, you corrupt turd.”  I searched for something appropriate to say, then settled on the truth. I growled, “Back at you,” without a smile, without making eye contact.  In her defense, opposing counsel was battling cancer.  For me, I have no excuse.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #2:  Little "p" peace

What peace should lawyers seek to make?  I distinguish Big-P from little-p peace.  Big-P Peace is heaven on earth.  Unfortunately, Big-P Peace is a putty that mashes into any shape one prefers.  The same is true of Big-L Love, Big-F Freedom, and Big-J Justice.  These capital-letter aspirations capture cherished human values.  Yet, none have concrete referents.  We cannot point and say, Peace resides in Marysville.  Did you catch that glimpse of Freedom on CNN?  Whoa!  I just saw Justice on that bus.  The world is just too muddy for Big Ideas to root themselves.  Big Ideas guide us, like maps.  Yet, they detail terrain that exists only in our hearts.  We worry (or should worry) that Big-P Peace suffers such intellectual plasticity that it lacks meaning altogether.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #3:  Within

Peacemaking starts within peacemakers.  Examining my own interior world, that is not an auspicious beginning.  Within me labors a host of conflicting urges.  Let me describe a moment last Tuesday at 3:07 p.m.  A nap beckoned.  One client needed his contract completed.  Another called for a no-notice meeting on something urgent.  Her knock approached like thunder after lightning.  A blattering truck ground my ears.  My paralegal walked by, smelling good (she is my spouse, so I suppose that is okay).  Sofie the dog peered at me with that “I’m fun; let’s have fun together” twinkle.  Her tail jiggled a preference for a squirrel-laden route through Hamlin Park.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #4:  Down the PDR Ladder

Rustling subsided after Commissioner Bedle slipped into his Department D chair.  With no opposition, I expected my probate matter to be heard early; disputed cases were footed.  Queued just ahead of me was a guardianship case.  One issue in that matter was an attorney’s fee request.  The guardianship had spent more than $71,000 in fees litigating with counsel for the ward, and now sought $3,000 more.  One previously litigated issue sought judicial determination whether the guardian acted appropriately in denying the ten-year-old ward use of his cell phone daily after 9:00 p.m.  Of this case, I know little.  Some issues must have been portentous.  Still, I wondered about the civil litigation system.  Was cell phone abuse a matter so laden that it required the attention of a superior court commissioner?  I was most grateful not to have Commissioner Bedle’s job.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #5:  Bookends

My waitress had taken my dirty breakfast plate and refilled my decaf.  I paged through the New York Times, slurping.  Murmurs arose.  Jen, the morning-shift waitress, whispered to regulars what the kitchen Sony blurted.  Hijacked planes had slammed into New York’s World Trade Center towers.  Online, I saw the south tower fall, then the north tower.  Thousands died.  The nation grieved.  Al-Qaeda’s Arab street-cred skyrocketed.  The bookend moment arrived this May.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #6:  Brainworks

Kim and I recently finished The Tudors, an HBO series depicting the homicidal self-indulgence of King Henry VIII of England.  Nightly, the Lancasters slip into a semi-comatose state in ritual preparation for sleep, melting into massive mauve La-Z-Boys like lumps of sun-struck butter.  Sofie’s dream-barks muffle beneath a lap throw.  Dexter, Six Feet Under, Sopranos, Jack Bauer, West Wing, Band of Brothers, Tara’s multiple personality gyrations, Breaking Bad, and a long trail of Netflixed others murmur from our 1980s small-screen CRT Panasonic.  Henry Rex’s tale mimicked all the others.  A hero (or anti-hero) confronts a villain (or anti-villain), stumbling over ethical hurdles while saving (adventures) or failing to save (tragedies) mankind (or its surrogate—a country, town, family, or friend).  Right prevails (as justice demands) or doesn’t (as infamy mandates).  The storylines are fustily trite, yet quietly fulfilling.  The stories touch me deeply, even when inane.  Perhaps this betrays the shallowness of my pond.  Or perhaps these tales recapitulate myths, abyssal narratives that loop ceaselessly just below the thin skin of consciousness.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #7:  Cob Corn

How does human conflict emerge?  Some proffer economic analysis:  conflict emerges when many seek scarce resources.  Others prefer a social systems perspective:  conflict emerges when some oppose change that others advocate.    A theological tale tempts many:  conflict emerges when evil persons oppress God’s chosen.  I suggest a fourth alternative, which I call the cob corn theory of conflict genesis.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #8:  Tailgating

Just after dark, to keep him safe, I drove my friend Tom and his bike home from Shoreline.  Our club, Rain City Rotary, had been bagging roadside trash on 15th NE.  Tom and I traveled McAleer Creek Road, a narrow winding streamside goat track through Lake Forest Park.  The speed limit was twenty-five miles per hour, a limit about which the City of Lake Forest Park seems quite serious.  With darkness and blind curves, even that minimal speed may have been optimistic.  Headlights barreled up behind me, dipping as the motorist braked sharply.  He hovered feet behind my bumper, edging closer to goad me to pick up my pace.  I stuck to my pottering guns.  My much-delayed nemesis also persisted.  Five minutes later, we rounded a corner to a one hundred yard straightaway, still double-yellowed with limited visibility and invisible driveways.  Mad Max gunned it, swirled past me, lurching back into the right lane with scant clearance at my front fender.  He arrived at the first Lake Forest Park stop sign seconds before my rusty little Nissan pickup.  My unkind thoughts mirrored those of that hurried local, or so I surmised.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #9:  Martial Listening

Lawyers, long-inured to litigation, criticize peacemaking.  They say that the weapons of peacemakers are, well, puny.  What is empathy when compared to contempt proceedings?  What is deflecting a dispute toward joint problem-solving when measured by the criminal indictment?  How does confidence in the possibility of peace stack up to a summons and complaint?   What might curiosity unearth that a hundred pages of interrogatories fails to expose?  War lawyers munch coercion for breakfast.  They salt their raw meats with assertion and pepper with threats.  Worst for the litigator, peacemakers whine.  Litigators spit them out.  They are a stench in the nostrils.  Peacemakers harp, like ill-parented children:  the wasteful expense of litigation, the emotional carnage, the futility.  The inured litigator knows martial values:  discipline, equanimity, and the mettle of humans under stress.  Mamby-pamby well-wishing serves none.  Take up the sword, so litigators counsel.  Litigators nod at Athens’s negotiation with Melos.  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #10:  Difficult Conversations

Lawyers conduct difficult conversations for a living.  It might help legal practitioners if client secrets and duties of confidentiality did not preclude us from recounting with great specificity our clients’ struggles and conflicts.  I suspect that, decades ago, three scotches into an end-of-day yammer at the local watering hole provided context for telling such stories with low risk of client injury.  Those lingering alcohol-drenched huddles now seldom occur, at least in my world.  The need to tell these stories drives some lawyers to writing novels.  Fictionalizing attorneys portray client dilemmas, but invent a world to do so ethically.  I fictionalize now.  But, of course, this story “happened.”   READ MORE.

Peacemakers #11:  Prediction

What effect has the belief system of the peacemaker upon outcomes in human conflict?  Is the peacemaker a mere facilitating functionary in the process of conflict resolution, or is she a player in the outcome?  Every lawyer answers the following questions, aware or unaware of doing so:  What sort of animals are humans?  Is man congenitally prone to coercion?  Is mankind a bent twig, fatally abrading its issuing branch in every inclement gust?  Or is humankind bootstrapping itself from gory African predation toward global hyper-cooperation?  Is violence essentially human, like language and complex ideation and upright ambulation?  Or is the human legacy of bloodshed a jarring rapids to be painfully negotiated in our long seaward tumble toward a mutually respectful future?  READ MORE.

Peacemakers #12:  Irenea

Peacemakers need a word.  What is the antonym of violence?  Of coercion?  Mark Kurlansky, author of Nonviolence:  The History of a Dangerous Idea, complains that no proactive word for nonviolence exists.  The only word available is the negation of the word “violence” or the negation of the word “coercion.”   Gandhi coined the term “satyagraha,” for nonviolent noncooperation, which terminology has, frankly, never caught on with peacemakers.  For Gandhi, satyagraha was clinging to Truth, which is spirit-force (that is, god).  Practicing satyagraha builds the deepest tiers of character, and entails more than passive resistance.  Satyagrahi (those who practice satyagraha) engage civil disobedience of immoral laws, and refuse to cooperate with corrupt governments.  READ MORE.