Category Archives: Political Musings

Chemical Imbalance and the Law

I recently finished Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In the book, Sinek demonstrates how work environments impact five different chemicals in the human body: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. Endorphins mask physical pain with pleasure in times of stress or fear (the “runner’s high”). Dopamine rewards goal oriented behavior with a rush of pleasure when we complete something we set out to do. Serotonin releases feelings of pride and pleasure when we feel like people like or respect us. Oxytocin generates a sense of love, friendship, or deep contentment when we see people we like and trust. Cortisol triggers flight or fight instincts in times of high stress or danger.

Since these chemicals impact the way humans survive and interact with one another, they play an important role in work environments. High stress, competitive environments where employees feel powerless and pressured to produce big or risk losing their jobs produce unhealthy, chemically imbalanced workers. This imbalance applies to CEOs and janitors alike, regardless of perceived job pressure. (In fact, the imbalance likely impacts the janitor more if he feels powerless to change the situation.)

In jobs that emphasize short-term results over long-term relationships, workers depend on their survival chemicals: Endorphins, Dopamine, and Cortisol. This creates an environment where people live in a “flight or fight” mentality and are constantly stressed about meeting high goals and expectations. When Cortisol is released, the body shuts down “unnecessary” systems, including the immune system. This impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. However, because of Endorphins and Dopamine, it doesn’t feel like a constant barrage. It can feel good and even addicting. These chemicals, however, only mask the damage caused by stress, they don’t fix it.

Further, with work environments that foster uncertainty and anxiety come lowered levels of Serotonin and Oxytocin – meaning people feel less appreciated, content, and socially engaged at work. Where jobs are highly competitive, employees view each other as competitors instead of allies. People feel less comfortable sharing ideas, making mistakes, or collaborating on projects. This impacts not only a company’s ability to thrive, but the individual’s.

A prime example of an unhealthy business environment would be General Electric at the end of the 1980s. At the end of each year, the bottom 10% of GE managers whose divisions contributed least to the company’s share price were fired. If the bottom 10% automatically get fired and you see someone struggling, would you help them out? Probably not. You would be putting your own job at risk.

However, more than isolating employees, such environments also foster unethical behavior. When short-term goals matter above all else, things like honesty, integrity, and compliance fall to the wayside. People focus on survival, and when that behavior gets rewarded, they get a Dopamine hit and continue to behave that way. Spread out over time, this behavior leads to corruption and the eventual downfall of a company.

As an avid reader of business books that emphasize the importance of culture, Sinek’s analysis did not surprise me. It shouldn’t surprise you either. People want fulfilling jobs. Humans weren’t designed for constant, high-level stress. It is easy to recognize bad practices in a business.

Yet this stressful, high-pressure, chemically imbalanced environment reflects the very culture that is expected, even rewarded, in the legal profession.

Want to go “big law”? Think long hours and high stress loads. Want to work in criminal law? Prosecutor or defense attorney, someone’s freedom now depends on you. Want to work at a boutique firm, or even start your own law firm? Gotta make sure you make enough to pay off those heavy student loans. How do you pay those off? You take on more jobs, create a higher stress load, and keep going, going, going. For each client, you must strive for justice. Money is at stake. Freedom is at stake. Your ability, or lack of ability, impacts countless lives.

Is it any wonder the legal profession is rife with alcoholism and ranks third in suicides behind doctors and dentists?

The pressure doesn’t begin once you land your first job: it starts pre-law school. Where you work often depends on where you go to law school. The best jobs go to the best schools. Early on driven, goal-oriented people with a natural affinity for Dopamine stand out and get into the schools. Once in the school, the best employers take only the best students. This is the way of the world. You are now competing against your classmates, and because law school grades on a curve, this isn’t a place where everyone can do well. You either receive one of the scarce As, or you don’t. If there are limited As, are you going to help your classmate get one? Not if it hurts your chances. Goodbye Serotonin and Oxytocin, this is not the place for you.

Law school is 3 years. For 3 years, you can survive anything, right? You can survive finals worth 100% of your grade (STRESSSSS!) You can survive competitive classmates and high interest rates on your loans. You can survive…sure, your Cortisol is firing but your Endorphins and Dopamine tell you it is okay. And maybe it would be okay if it actually ended in 3 years, but that isn’t the way the legal profession works. In the real world, law school is child’s play. But this too will be okay, you’ve learned to cope. Probably through alcohol. Definitely through something addictive. Want to make partner in a firm? Want to save the world? Of course you do. Time to get to work. Hit me with the Dopamine.

What happens in the business world when the wrong things get incentivized? Companies become corrupt and self-destruct. Now imagine what happens when you wrongly incentive a whole profession.

Is it any wonder lawyers get a bad rap? Lawyers are stigmatized as ethic-less and money-hungry. Yet the law is designed as an adversarial system where every case comes with high stakes and in law school we are taught to deal with that pressure through isolation and alcoholism. Culturally, we’ve created a chemically imbalanced environment for the very people we entrust with justice. I am sure there are lawyers and law firms that overcome this. There might even be law schools out there seeking balance. It is still a huge problem, however, and not one that only affects those who “have a personality for the law.” Just take a look at our justice system.

I don’t know what the solution is, or if there even is one. I do know that change needs to happen and it needs to start in our law schools. 

Advertisements

International Women’s Day

Are protests really the answer? 

Today in France, protesting women left the workplace twenty minutes early to bring awareness to gender wage gaps. In Rome and other places, protesters blocked traffic and shut down public transportation. In the United States, women called for a “day without women,” resulting in closed schools and empty jobs. All of this was in the name of “equality and empowerment.”

But do protests really bring that about? 

Today I was in Madison for work. Around lunch, a small group of women began marching around the capital, waving signs and declaring their desire for change. I am sure they had a variety of motives for being out there, many positive and genuine. However, while they were protesting and waving signs with words like “This pussy fights back,” my co-workers (mostly females!) and I were working hard to bring about actual change. 

This really hit home for me during a meeting we had with political and social thought leaders this afternoon. Outside, we could still hear the women chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the patriarchy has got to go!” Inside, my group gathered to talk about the heavy tax burden and over-regulation that make life harder for men and women. The meeting was definitely gender-skewed; there were about 5 women and 20 men present. Was this representative of the patriarchy keeping us down? Hardly! We had an equal voice at the table. 

What would have happened if we decided to take a day off of work and protest the fact that there were fewer females than males represented? The meeting definitely still would have happened, but without our voices. 

Protests play a role in democracy, but they won’t solve the world’s problems. If you want to make a difference, you have to work for it. Change takes drudgery; it takes showing up day after day, even when you are in the minority. The only thing a #daywithoutwomen accomplishes is another day when women’s voices – and true solutions for equality and empowerment – are absent from the table. 

Image may contain: 4 people, tree, basketball court, sky and outdoor

A few of my fabulous, female co-workers. These ladies inspire me to keep fighting. 


Voting!

Okay, I know you are all inundated by election stuff, but I have had so much build up for today I decided to make one last post. In spite of my frustration with the top of the ballot, voting was really fun today. There were a lot of fantastic people represented on my ballot who I know are a good leaders and who strive to make a difference. It was a pleasure voting for them and it reminded me that no matter how bleak the national level might be, we can’t give up on our local representatives. Happy voting day everyone!


TOMORROW IS ELECTION DAY!

In case you hadn’t noticed. 

The election is tomorrow! Make sure you vote!


Hillary’s America

The other day I went and saw Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America with a friend. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Hillary’s America is a documentary about the history of the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton. I was a little skeptical going in but ended up pleasantly surprised.

The movie does a beautiful job with presentation and storytelling. It is interesting to watch and educating. Of course, it is going to be very politically polarizing. This isn’t a documentary designed to win friends on the other side of the aisle. However, I think it will make a much needed difference in firming up the Republican base and inspiring people going into November. 

I particularly enjoyed the focus on Ida B. Wells, an African American civil rights activist and journalist from the late 1800s. I want to learn more about her! 


#Brexit

I don’t know a lot about Great Britain leaving the EU or what that action will mean for the future. I am certain this is a monumental decision that will have a long reaching impact. Overall, I am inclined to approve Brexit and the Heritage Foundation sums up why pretty well…

However, this is a nuanced situation, and I acknowledge I am no expert. What amazes me, though, is how Americans (or at least my Facebook newsfeed…) have responded to this vote. I have seen 50+ memes or Facebook statuses today that basically say:

I’m all for patriotism and America first, but guys, how have we made Brexit all about U.S.??? It is funny but seems to be the only way we know how to respond! Welcome to ‘Merica, we brexited first. 


Destiny of the Republic

Today I finished reading Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.  In it, Millard weaves together the brief presidency of James A. Garfield, the egotistic insanity of Garfield’s killer, and the ineptitude of the doctors who surrounded him. Alexander Graham Bell played a role in this drama, as did the ideas Joseph Lister, whose warnings about germs were unfortunately ignored.
I knew very little about President Garfield going in to this book and was pleasantly surprised by how readable and informative it turned out to be. I have a greater understanding of him as a president and era he lived in. Highly recommended. 

However, what stood out to me most from this read wasn’t Garfield’s assassination, but the political machinations that surrounded him during his presidency. The political world he lived in was remarkably like our own. I think it is easy to assume that mud-slinging and politicking are a recent phenomenon, maybe something introduced after WW2. However, humanity hasn’t changed that much over the past few hundred years. Political parties were divided and divisive. Ambitions reigned and many men fought tooth and nail for the prestige of becoming president. Corruption was rampant and positions were appointed based on political connections and favors rather than merit.  

It has often been noted that President Obama entered the White House with very little experience. However, Chester A. Arthur, who followed President Garfield, arguably wins that competition. Prior to becoming Vice President (and then President) of the United States, his only public position was Collector of the New York Customs House, a job he was later fired from! 

I really appreciate reading Destiny of the Republic. It reminded me that as dreary and depressing as this political season has been, America has weathered worse. As a country, we’ve dealt with corruption, assassinations, and Civil War. We’ve had great and lousy presidents. No matter how bad a single election might look, it isn’t the end of the story. It is only another chapter.