This morning I am at the Thunderhead Ranch east of Dubois Wyoming where–along with a volunteer staff of brilliant and talented trial lawyers–we conduct the Trial Lawyers College each summer. It is early. The sun is still in hiding.
The exercise for the day is silence—blessed silence. We met in the loft of the big barn at five o’clock. Once we entered the barn all was silent except for the instructions I gave. We should meet with Mother Nature. Every part of us came from her, and will one day return to her. We should go in silence and listen to her and see what, if anything she has to say to us.
Are we not harassed by noise? Are we not attacked by its pollution? In the cities we cannot escape it, the sound of gasoline engines belching and growling, the vibrations above of airplanes roaring and whining, the incessant chatter of the radio and television that seems to be a requirement for life without which we are lost and lonely. Even in the house the incessant sounds abound, the whir of the refrigerator, the tromping of the family’s feet, the babble of children and the louder babble of their parents—the noise of life. There is no way to escape it.
“I instruct the lawyers, we call them warriors, for these warriors fight for the rights of people against the daunting power of corporations and government…”
I instruct the lawyers, we call them warriors, for these warriors fight for the rights of people against the daunting power of corporations and government—I instruct the warriors to go into the hills that surround the ranch. Find a place that is yours, where you can see no other person—perhaps by one of the huge old rocks discarded by retreating glaciers, or down by the stream. Nothing here will harm you. The wild animals, the deer, the antelope, the coyotes, the moose—they are all friendly. Even the mountain lion is shy and will slip away to avoid the noise of your feet.
When they find their place they should lie down on the earth and listen. Perhaps there will be a message. Perhaps the warrior has something to say to Mother Earth. Perhaps the warrior will ask questions like: What is the history of my life? Who am I? Where have I been all of these years? What roads have I traveled? And, having heard the answers to those questions, perhaps he or she will have a better idea of the road ahead.
Then these lawyers will come in and have a silent breakfast. Not a word will be exchanged among them. And after breakfast they will meet again in the big barn where they will paint. Paint? Lawyers painting? They will be asked to paint who they are, to paint a portrait of their soul. They will find in that exercise something of themselves that most have never encountered. And they will paint in complete silence.
After that we will have a silent lunch and at two in the afternoon we will again meet in the big barn and break the silence. We will share with one another what we have learned. What we have experienced. What it has been like to see the sun come up, to break the darkness. What our conversations with Mother Earth have been. What was revealed to us in our painting.
Already, every morning we meet in the big barn and first off we give time to the warriors to read their poetry to us. Most have never written a poem. Each warrior is required to sing a solo. The warrior mounts an old picnic table and looks down on his fellow warriors. It is frightening—to sing a song like that in public. But we must learn to use the voice, to acquire a comfort in speaking to juries. We must learn the rhythms of poetry in our arguments to the jury. We need to learn the composition of our speech that is found in song and verse. We should better understand who we are in order that we can better know our clients and the judge and jurors, yes, and even our opponents.
We have already been in other exercises that are calculated to help us to become acquainted with the self. We are teaching and learning together. It is a program that lets the warriors experience successful ways to choose their juries, to present the evidence and to make their arguments. It is a new kind of education that lawyers never get in law school—how to be a human being. We believe that if we are to successfully argue to other human beings in a courtroom—to jurors—we must first learn to be human beings ourselves.
I am writing this while the warriors are about their silent tasks I have assigned them. I am thinking about how much courage it takes to participate in those tasks. I am also listening to the stream outside my window. The sun has burst out in its perfect glory. The day is upon us. And silence, as my mother used to tell me, is golden. I have learned much from it.