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In his poem To a Louse, Robert Burns wrote, “O, would some Power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us! It would from many a blunder free us, and foolish notion.” He had it right.
I like being on my side of the desk: the side that gives the advice, and not the side that has to take it. I do think that I give good advice, of course, and — fortunately for my practice! — the people who ask me for it usually agree. I realize, though, that taking a lawyer’s advice can sometimes be like swallowing bricks… because every so often, I need to take my own.
One of the things I advise clients to do is to try to look at themselves and their actions through the eyes of their spouses or co-parents. Your good intent doesn’t matter if someone is willing to see horns and a tail on you even if you walk on water, and knowing this can help you communicate more effectively and avoid negative escalation. I tell clients that truth unheard is the same as truth unspoken, and that an atmosphere of mistrust can make even the most innocent statement sound like the underhanded vilification of a calculating fiend. I explain that it might be a judge who decides whether they were waving their hands for emphasis, or raising their fists in threat. By words and reactions, your spouse or co-parent will hold up a mirror to you; and even if you don’t recognize (or even like) what you see in it, never be afraid to look, and to learn something about yourself through the eyes of another.
Yesterday, I got to look into such a mirror courtesy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The article was inspired by this week’s free divorce event. My interview last Friday with the reporter lasted about forty minutes, and was very congenial. She had a wide variety of questions to ask me, and she allowed me to speak at length about what I was trying to do, and also about my practice, my philosophy about divorce, and my experiences. I was as thorough as I could be, and by the time the interview was over I felt that I had given her everything she needed to paint an accurate picture of me for the reading public.
Then came yesterday’s article. I was forcefully reminded that a reporter’s job is not to be my friend or my personal publicist, but instead to write about what she considers important, as she sees it. She writes for you, not for me. She forms an opinion about what people tell her that will color everything she publishes. She has a defined amount of space to fill, and an angle on the situation that has nothing at all to do with any goals of mine.
The resulting article was a little like looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. If it wasn’t a complete picture, if it focused on some things at the expense of others, if it wasn’t everything I hoped to see, the reflection was still a true one. Perspective is everything, and when it comes to someone else’s choices, their perspective matters more than mine.
Reporter Nafari Vanaski’s goal was to interest you, inform you, and to paint a picture for you of what she saw. She did her job both honestly and well. In doing so, she also gave me the gift that Robert Burns could only wish for.
If you need legal assistance with your divorce or family law matter in Southwestern Pennsylvania, call my office to set up a personal consultation with an affordable divorce attorney, and to learn more about PA no fault divorce. This blog will feature periodic updates. Consider subscribing! Please do not comment anonymously, and do not post anything that you consider confidential. I try to be responsive to commentary and questions, but know that posting here will not create an attorney/client relationship and that I will not offer legal advice via the Internet.
Michael B. Greenstein
Greenstein Family Law Services, P.C.
1789 S. Braddock Avenue, Suite 590
Pittsburgh, PA 15218