Sometimes you look at a document and recognize that even though the words are English, the language doesn’t make any sense.
If you’ve ever graded freshman composition essays or been served legal papers you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’ve been served with official documents twice in my life and both times I’ve found myself especially grateful for lawyers and equally frustrated by them- Frustrated by the legal team pursuing my wallet and grateful for the lawyer who was looking out for me.
While I don’t claim to know the difference between a Sworn Affidavit and a Writ of Haebeus Corpus, I do understand enough that to know that a lawyer rarely sends a paralegal to your door with a birthday card or deliciously mischievous Mad-Lib.
Beyond the swirling confusion produced by the necessary legal jargon, the process of taking custody of your court documents is compounded the forced awkwardness of the delivery scenario.
Today’s paralegal provides a service that no one else wants to, during hours that no one wants to work. They also know that they can’t let you see them coming (people duck out), and that they must also immediately vanish upon completion of the unsavory task (people usually freak out).
Because of this, they work like spring gnomes, disappearing into idling motorcars as abruptly as they appear from hedgerows.
In colloquial terms, a paralegal is essentially the “messenger” that you “don’t shoot”, even if they startle you.
If you hear a knock at your door, and the man on the other side of the peephole appears to be just a large nose wearing both sunglasses and a mustache, brace yourself, because you’re about to discover that you are being sued, or receiving a pizza that you did not order.
In either situation the responsible party is both absent, and expecting to be overpaid.
This week the lawyers at Jack Daniels, of Tennessee Sour Mash fame, broke with legal and social convention by delivering what appears to be the most civil and agreeable Cease and Desist order in the history of jurisprudence.
They contacted the author of a book who’s cover art bore a strong resemblance to their label design.
This official document made its rounds over the internet, causing many of the major news outlets to note that Jack Daniels appeared to strike a nearly perfect tone in not only protecting its brand, but also it’s positive reputation among the consuming public.
What fascinates me isn’t that Jack Daniels did such a good job handling this situation, but that the rest of us appear to be doing such a terrible job of handling confrontation.
I don’t think I’m alone in my opinion that the only thing Americans seem to like less than confrontation and disagreement is not being “liked”.
This is probably why we pay the man with the mustache to deliver our bad news and then take the emotional abuse that ensues.
It seems to have become standard operating procedure to do our best to avoid confrontation, and then, when it becomes unavoidable, to pay someone else to deliver our threats and demands for us.
Maybe this perceived anonymity is why it’s so easy to take advantage of the legal system and exploit the misfortunes of others for personal gain.
This impersonal approach is the reason that chatrooms and message boards are filled with so much drama right?
But what if we all took the same approach to confrontation that “the Daniels Family” did:
1.) Assume the best about the person that we need to confront.
2.) Address the problem in such a way that allows for there to have been a misunderstanding?
3.) Make clear statements about our expectations and desires in as friendly a tone as possible.
4.) Offer some resources of our own to help rectify the situation.
5.) Set reasonable goals and deadlines for compliance, before issuing threats and ultimatums.
Would people be frightened of our interactions?
Would we be able to confront and still be highly esteemed?
Of course doing this means that we would have to desire respectability over acceptance… But isn’t that a much more noble way of living anyway?
Of course some people just won’t respond appropriately to this approach, they may not be good natured and civil, and other firmer measures will still need to be presented, but imagine the difference that trying this would make in the life of a:
Car Rental Agent,
Fast Food Employee,
Parking Enforcement Officer,
Or anybody else whom we think our payment for service entitles us to verbally abuse.
Taking responsibility for our personal confrontations, and being more concerned about someone’s feelings than our own self image could make a significant difference in the way that problems get solved.
Especially for the paralegals.