Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Addictive Power of Ass-Kicking

Ms. Kitty recently wrote a thoughtful post about Ego and Ministry that probably set me up to be thinking this way, so I should credit her right from the start.

Tonight, in my smallest class, we informally argued out the issues in a case out of the Massachusetts district court where a Rastafarian who worked at Jiffy Lube sued for religious discrimination since Jiffy Lube instituted a professional appearance policy and gave him a position with no customer contact because he said his religion forbade him from following the policy.

(One wonders how a Rastafarian got past the drug test that insurance companies make the employers of those who use power tools administer, but my professor has already talked to us about not arguing issues that aren't in the case, so I bring that up here instead.)

We divided into teams. I was put on Jiffy Lube's side. The Rastafarian's team went first, and their central argument showed they either missed a small fact of the case, or took a gamble that we'd missed it.

Either way, they lost.

As I heard the argument, I remembered the fact. I paged through until I found the fact, circled it and calmly handed my copy of the case printout to my group's token extrovert, who was arguing our case for us. She looked very excited, showing it to the people sitting near her.

When it was our turn to argue our side, she began by demolishing the other side's position before moving on to ours. She's really smart and really quick on her feet and she absolutely made the most of what I'd given her. But when the debate was over, it was me everybody was thanking and smiling at.

It had been, at most, a fifteen-minute exercise. But having handed the other team their asses so thoroughly felt wonderful. As I packed up my stuff and left the room, I felt like I'd been shot up with morphine. I glided out to my car, feeling stupid for being so happy, but victory was still a lot of fun. I tried to call LinguistFriend on my way home, but he wasn't there. (He should consider this his invitation to dish if he had a hot date.)

My joy in this is, of course, rooted in insecurity. I'm still a little creeped out by an interaction I overheard in property class that went something like

"I'm Bob."

"Pleased to meet you, I'm Montgomery. Hey... Where did you go to school?"


"Really? Me too!"

(I believe that's word for word other than the names.)

So yeah, that aspect made this all feel especially good to the girl from St. Andrews Presbyterian College.

I'm troubled at how much I liked it, though. First off, my impression is these little debates happen with varying degrees of formality throughout law school. I will face a lot more of them, and I am totally aware that sometimes I'm going to lose, so getting addicted to that feeling is asking for trouble.

Part of this is probably rooted in my good Calvinist upbringing and mistrust of anything I like too much, but I also know I've seen the people who get off on this stuff, and I really don't want to be one of them. Being dependent on external validation, to say nothing of the sort of external validation that comes from besting other people in insignificant competitions, seems so cheesy to me, but there I go.

One of the attorneys at my firm and I were talking last week and I made reference to what I mistakenly said was the McNaghten rule, which she pointed out was properly pronounced "M'Naghten." She said almost everybody makes that mistake and if I can keep the proper pronunciation in mind, I will look "Smarter than the average bear."

With apologies to Yogi, I realized at that moment that I was A-OK with being the average bear in class discussions, though being a superior sort of bear when it comes to test-taking would be nice. But fundamentally, I'm still pleased to be a bear at all.

Well, unless I'm remembering a debate-winning fact and kicking ass, and then I get all warm and fuzzy about it, and feel goofy for feeling that way.

I'm guessing this too will pass.

off to hibernate for a few more hours before work.


LinguistFriend said...

Well, my date was with a second-century Greek physician named Galen, and I was reading German and Greek stuff about him while you were doing your ass-kicking. It sounds like a good start. My, am I aware of that logically competitive streak, which is being reinforced by your starting law school. But it is probably constructive in your present professional direction.

epilonious said...

"Part of this is probably rooted in my good Calvinist upbringing and mistrust of anything I like too much, "
That phrase tickled me to no end.

It makes me want to send you cookies because not only will they be tasty, they may incite moral struggle within you :).

Lilylou said...

CC, you're right on target, both in your life challenges and your writing about the struggle! I loved reading what you had to say and thanks for crediting me. I'm going to try to keep from checking Technorati too soon to see when it shows up and if it boosts my authority score! That's my ego discipline for today. I did just get back from the gym and am feeling very pleased with myself because I have decided to go to the gym five times a week, not just two or three.
Down, nasty ego, DOWN, I say!

Stephanie said...

I wonder if you want to guest blog on the religious accommodation/discrimination aspect of this case. I'm always interested in how these play out legally. :)

I think feeling good about yourself (or great!) is a good thing. :) Positive strokes and all that.

Robin Edgar said...

I must admit that handing the other team their asses so thoroughly can indeed feel wonderful. . . Thanks for your helpful input CC! ;-)

LaReinaCobre said...

Enjoy your successes! Who will appreciate you if you don't appreciate yourself?

Chalicechick said...

Robin, you're a fabulous example of what I'm talking about.


Robin Edgar said...

Well I do try to be helpful CC. ;-)

PG said...


While I agree that law school is full of people who get high on "the addictive power of ass-kicking," I don't worry about you in this respect because you're not egotistical about it. Your story emphasizes how much you enjoyed being able to contribute to the team, rather than being about how you wished you'd been the one to deliver your killing point. I agree with linguistfriend that a "logically competitive streak" "is probably constructive in your present professional direction," as long as that streak is happy to be a team player. I only find the people with a logically competitive streak obnoxious when it's used not to find the best argument, but to self-aggrandize those with the streak. Those people never would have given the great argument to a teammate.

fausto said...

Some reactions:

1. As my high school college counselor was fond of saying to us would-be overachievers, "It doesn't matter as much as you may think where you go to college. You can do good work almost anywhere. What matters is that you keep doing good work, wherever you go."

2. You've got what it takes, or at least Georgetown thought so, and they should know. You only need a little more consistency in your self-confidence that you've got what it takes.

3. Notwithstanding the foregoing, don't be dissin' Fausto's alma mater.

4. As an armchair authority on Gaelic patronymics, having possessed one my whole life, I will state with a big dose of my own self-confidence that your helpful attorney friend is wrong about the proper pronunciation of same. "Mac", Mc", and "M'" are all Anglicized orthographic variants of the Scots Gaelic mhic, meaning "son of". All are properly pronounced "mic" or "mac". Daniel M'Naghten, after whom the "M'Naghten Rule" is named, was a Scottish assassin of an English civil servant, who presumably pronounced his name according to Scots tradition rather than English written phonetics. According to Wikipedia, "historical sources vary as to the correct spelling of M'Naghten's name with original court documents and hospital records supporting 'McNaughton'."

The M'Naghten rule, incidentally, holds that a person cannot be convicted of murder if it can be established that he could not tell right from wrong. Since it was self-evident in Mr. M'Naghten's case that a Scot need not necessarily think it wrong to assassinate an Englishman, especially one presuming to rule over a Scot, Mr. M'Naghten was rightly acquitted. As Famous UU Robert Burns observed:

Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord,
Wha struts an' stares an' a' that,--
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that;
For a' that, an' a' that
His riband, star, and a' that;
The man o' independent mind,
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

Now it may well be the case that, as in the case of many Latin phrases as well, in the eye of the law Mr. M'Naghten's name has come to be pronounced incorrectly, according to its appearance on the page. If that's so, then I am reminded of the wisdom that Famous UU Charles Dickens placed in the mouth of Mr. Bumble in his novel Oliver Twist: "If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot! If that's the eye of the law, then the law is a bachelor. And the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience."

Chalicechick said...

1. Someone who went to a small school nobody's heard of who has lots of friends that went to well-known schools that open lots of doors for you and where your classmates grow up to be famous people is uniquely positioned to tell you your career counselor was dangerously optimistic.

2. Actual academic success might bring that on. Don't know. I've never had it. I write a hell of an essay and I did ok on the LSAT, but grades have always been hard for me.

3. No diss intended, other than naming my classmates after the two Simpsons characters that went to Yale, which isn't much as disses go. Seriously, that the respective schools of the people who surround me in property class are Brown, Yale and MIT is something I try not to think about too often.

4. (((Since it was self-evident in Mr. M'Naghten's case that a Scot need not necessarily think it wrong to assassinate an Englishman, especially one presuming to rule over a Scot, Mr. M'Naghten was rightly acquitted.)))

delighted this particular English chick.


fausto said...

1. Perhaps. One need only gaze down the street to 1600 Pennsylvania to find an example of a privileged Ivy Leaguer who never truly earned the opportunities he has enjoyed. On the other hand, it might seem a wee bit of a stretch to gainsay my high school counselor from your podium at Georgetown Law, even after wandering a few years in what you might have supposed to have been the wilderness. You didn't arrive there undeservedly. You were prepared for it somehow.

2. Actual academic success might bring that on. Yes, and I have high hopes that it will.

3. ...that the respective schools of the people who surround me in property class are Brown, Yale and MIT is something I try not to think about too often. Good. Don't. You're prejudging these people based on unrealistic stereotypes. Positively instead of negatively, but still. (Just remember the man at 1600 Penna., if you catch yourself doing it again.) One more piece of evidence, if any were needed, that our AR/AO program is inadequate and needs a total overhaul.

4. You're not an English oppressor, you're an American pioneer for justice. At least that's the way I see you. (Our AR/AO program doesn't deal well with correcting the stereotypes we apply to ourselves, either, does it?)

Chalicechick said...

I'd say the guy down the street is an excellent example of what I'm talking about. Would he be where he was if he had gone to a less prestigious school? Maybe, but it's a lot less likely.

If it helps, this doesn't feel like a podium. The law library, where I sit trying not to watch the squirrels in the tree outside have sex, feels a bit more pit-like at the moment.