Governance & Membership

March 2019 President's Message

It's a Matter of Attitude

By Charles W. Chesnut

Recently, I called my electrician’s shop. I wanted to ask him to come and fix a lighting problem I was having at the office. It was a bitterly cold day – one of those days where the low was about 14 degrees. His mother, one of my clients, answered the telephone. She is 93 years old. “Marie,” I said, “you’re up and at ‘em early on this cold morning.” “It’s a matter of attitude,” she responded. “The way I look at it, I’m lucky at this age to be able to get up and go to work.”

Pretty amazing, really. Ninety-three years old. Fourteen degrees outside, and she’s lucky to be able to get up and go to work.

I’ve been reading some of the Stoic philosophers lately. I’m not sure exactly how I got started on them. I think I’ve enjoyed many of the writings of Marcus Aurelius. I went on from there to read some of the works of other Stoics.

According to the Stoics, the path to happiness for humans, as social beings, is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

One of the many things that Marcus Aurelius writes is, “To change your experience, change your opinion. Stop telling yourself that you’re a victim and the pain goes away.” “Everything is opinion.”

So how does this relate to us as attorneys?

I think we are extremely fortunate to be able to practice law. We have the right to choose the type of law we practice, the clients we represent and the opportunity to help people solve very difficult problems in their lives that they are not able to solve for themselves. Most of us have the right to choose whether to take a case or not.

And yet it’s a tough business. Long hours. Difficult problems. Difficult people. Lots of stress from deadlines and work crowding in on us. And so how do we cope? We feel we have to voice the problem to get it out of us, to expose it to air, so we complain.

We complain about having too much work, not enough work, the demands placed upon us, the way we are treated by judges in the courtroom or by other attorneys, too many telephone calls, not enough telephone calls, the overhead we are faced with, the deadlines imposed upon us, the volume of emails we receive. You name it, we complain about it. It’s as if we take a certain amount of pride in complaining about our circumstances in life – even though much of it we have created ourselves through decisions we have made, especially if we didn’t have to take the case to begin with.

And yet much of these complaints are just opinions about it. That’s it. Just opinions – and probably not very considered ones at that. To change your experience, change your opinion. Change the way you look at it. It may take some work on your part to be creative enough to find another way of looking at it – to change your opinion of it. But when you are able to do that, it is liberating.

Wayne Dyer, a famous writer and motivational speaker, said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” So try to change the way you look at something, and see how it changes your life.

You could be 93, it’s 14 degrees outside and feel lucky to be able to get up and go to work. That’s her opinion. It could be ours too.

Two suggestions for books to read: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and 10% Happier by ABC newscaster Dan Harris.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 90 pg. 4 (March 2019)