Letters No. 10 and 11

This post continues my experiment of applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people facing divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius. Whether Seneca actually sent the letters, or just compiled them as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as when he wrote it in 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got a bunch of other amazing stuff there too. I highly recommend his book, Tools of Titans, which is worth the cost.

There is no post for Letter No. 10. It's another bust. If you're interested in learning about keeping to yourself (which is the topic of the letter), then you should read it yourself sitting alone.

Today's letter is No. 11. It's titled On the Blush of Modesty.

Seneca teeters on crapping out again with this letter, droning on for nearly two pages about how blushing (yes, he's referring to the kind that involves reddening of the face) isn't something a person can fake. Okay, thanks for the tip.

But, three paragraphs from the end, he pulls it together giving us something worthy of pondering.

He tells Lucilius to, "Cherish some man of high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as if he were watching you, and ordering all your actions as if he beheld them."

In other words, he's urging Lucilius to pretend that someone he respects is sitting on his shoulder (like a small angel) watching his every move. Doing so, Seneca claims, will eliminate most sins and keep him from going wrong. He ends by saying, "For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler."

How does this apply to people getting divorced in 2018?

Wouldn't everyone benefit from behaving better? I know I would.

Seneca's advice reminds me of something a law school professor once told me. On the first day of class, as we sat afraid in a large auditorium, she told us that when we were lawyers we would make mistakes. And some of those mistakes would hurt people.

But she said we'd be okay, as long as before we acted, we imagined our grandmother reading an article about us on front page of the New York Times. If the story sounded okay, we could act. If not, we ought to rethink what we were doing.

I've tried to use this approach when I weigh a settlement or file a motion or write a letter or send an email. If I'm not ashamed of what my grandmother might think, then I'm probably on the right path.

Divorce is an easy area to let emotions get the better of you.

In a moment of bad judgment, one of my favorite clients changed the caller-id on his home phone to read an expletive every time his spouse called home. The kids saw it. The judge heard about it. Not good.

But he wasn't a bad man. Far from it, actually. He was a great guy who felt powerless and angry about his situation. Maybe if he had imagined a mentor sitting on his shoulder he might not have acted.

I don't pretend to have the answers for you. I can't imagine how difficult your situation must be right now.

All I can say is that the people I respect most are those who are cool under pressure. People who remain optimistic in dark times, and people who seem to transcend trivial problems. These are the people I want to emulate.

Stay strong,

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