Saturday, January 27, 2007

On Empathy

As part of my new lease on life and my job, I have been thinking a lot about what may have caused my recent spate of burn-out, and in this way, hopefully, avoid it in the future. After meeting with several of my clients at the jail this week, rather than sending them letters or calling them on the phone, I think I may have figured it out. The root of my problem seems to have been that I had grown detached from my clients, and, as a result, I no longer wanted to help them. While pondering why this came to be, I began thinking of the difference between two nearly synonymous, but very different words. Empathy and Sympathy.

According to Marion-Webster, "empathy" is "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner." "Sympathy," conversely, is "an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other." In short, "empathy" is being understanding of and sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of another, whereas "sympathy" is sharing in and being similarly affected by those thoughts and feelings.

My conclusion is that I had previously been too sympathetic with my clients, causing me to become emotionally drained. One cannot survive long if one is constantly feeling the same things as so many troubled and down-trodden people are feeling. This exceeds my capacity and overloads my emotional resources. The answer is to be empathetic, i.e. understanding and being sensitive to my clients without sharing and participating in their feelings. Perhaps some are capable of sharing in their clients emotions. However, I have discovered that I am not. I cannot do my job effectively if I am constantly on this emotional roller-coaster of other people's problems. So, with this new understanding, I hope to be able to continue this noble work to the best of my ability for many years to come.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

To Life!

So, I am currently sitting in my cozy house, watching snow fall outside, and drinking English Breakfast tea. This is the life! Even better, my recent episode of burnout has not returned. I'm anticipating going back to work on Monday to attempt to get justice for my clients. I was writing pre-trial motions in my head while cleaning house, and I'm looking forward to soup and Animal Planet this evening. It makes me wonder why I was spending so much time and energy being angry and frustrated. This is better by far!

To life, to life, l'chaim!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy MLK Day!

I never really thought before about the similarities between the fight for racial equality and the fight for justice for those accused of crimes. But the two battles are similar. As public defenders, we try to protect the rights of those who many people wish had no rights at all. Dr. King fought for equal rights for people whose rights were ignored because of their skin color. As public defenders, we do not fight in a battle field with armies, but in courtrooms across the land. Dr. King also did not use violence to make his point, but fought with demonstrations and marches such that he could not be ignored. Both battles involve standing up for what you believe in the face of overwhelming dissent. Both battles continue on as progress is measured in small, barely noticeable increments and both encounter numerous, seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I am proud to be part of this great battle the goal of which is to enable every person to have the protection of the rights guaranteed us in the Constitution of these United States.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Blahs Have Passed

I guess the main reason I hadn't been posting much for the past month or two was that I couldn't find anything that exciting to write about. Has anyone had that feeling that everything you do you've already done hundreds of times before? Well, that's kind of what I felt like. I was bored. I was getting bunches of DWI and drug cases, with a few burglaries thrown in, but there was nothing exciting to do with them. Even the ones that went to trial were boring. I thought if I heard, "but the drugs weren't mine," or "I wasn't really drunk," one more time I was going to throw something at whoever said it. I'd gotten to the point I was just tuning out my clients who called me to complain that they needed to get out of jail because their mother was ill, or they had to support their families, or they were going to miss their kid's birthday. I just couldn't escape the feeling that I was doing the same things and having the same conversations over and over and over again. It was getting to the point I couldn't work up the energy to do the simplest tasks. I didn't want to file my files, speak with clients, or write the simplest motions that take all of 3 minutes. This, of course, made me feel like I wasn't doing my job well and made me more discouraged and frustrated.

Thank God for vacations!

It turns out that all I really needed was some time away from here with my family and some R & R. I didn't have to think about my clients, or the law, or anything at all for an entire week. Just what the doctor ordered! I've been back at work for two weeks now, and have been quite productive. I've been preparing my cases in a timely manner for trial, returning my clients' phone calls, and my desk is so clean that one of my co-workers was worried that I had quit. And I even got a great new toy for my birthday. My parents gave me a digital camera, so I can post pictures!

This is Bo. Bo, this is the blogosphere. He's in his favorite spot in front of the window. He's a sixteen-year-old chow-shepherd cross, and my best buddy. Ain't life grand?