President's Message

Posted by: Tricia Derr on Dec 1, 2013

See A Little More
Tricia M. Derr, President

Anybody remember the old Childraft books? Our version was from 1949, threadbare and well read by generations before mine. Like a great pair of clogs, the older those books got, the more I loved them. I still cherish each page; but especially the crayon-assaulted, toddler torn and puppy chewed ones.

While I loved the stories during childhood (and now enjoy reading them to my own children), I find many stories and poems curiously relevant in my professional life. One poem in particular, The Blind Men and the Elephant, by John Godfrey Saxe, seemed fitting for this message. It begins like this:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind).
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

Each of the "blind men," respectively "see" the elephant by feeling different parts of the elephant's body. The first "blind man" approaches the elephant's side and declares that the elephant is like a wall. The second, feeling the tusk, argues that the elephant is more like a spear. The third feels the trunk and claims that the elephant is really like a snake. The poem continues through the sixth "blind man," each "seeing" only his version of "the Elephant."The last stanza reveals the metaphor:

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

While the poem has been interpreted in a variety of ways, to me, it illustrates that "truth" is relative to human experience; and that each of us "see" the "truth" based upon our unique perspective and within the context of our situation. The metaphor has been useful in jury arguments and in teaching law students how to "issue spot." Recently, I used it to teach healthcare providers the importance of unbiased patient evaluation.

Halfway through my term as MCB President, I am reminded of the universal relevance of this story. I have had the unique opportunity to get to know attorneys from many different backgrounds, interests, families, passions, politics, and religions. The experience has changed me, no doubt; but I would have it no other way.

The last six months opened my eyes. More than ever, I appreciate the plight of the young lawyer desperate for work. I am sensitive to the feelings of those who are, or feel, excluded (and I no longer believe that the difference between the two is relevant). I admire and respect the work of our pro bono leaders and I am shamed by the lack of resources available to them. I am humbled by the intensity of work others have invested in our new Bar & Foundation Center. I am grateful for the work of the Foundation in collecting, and thoughtfully distributing our financial donations. I am amazed by the spirit of our affinity bar programs; and felt proud to be a part of the John S. Leary Bar's fundraising efforts for the Julius Chambers Scholarship Fund. I have become keenly aware that while we may share the same professional licenses and geographic location, we are the antithesis of homogeneity and normalcy (regardless of who defines it or how it is defined).

So, over this Holiday Season - regardless of if, how, what, when or whom you celebrate - let us be grateful for perspective. Let us be thankful for individuality. Take the time to get to know someone you may never otherwise meet. Listen to their stories and broaden your viewpoint. Share your adventures - good and bad. Voice your opposition (yes, I really did invite that). Include someone who is (or may be feeling) left out. Introduce yourself to a new committee, affinity bar, section, program, or pro bono effort. Get to know a fellow attorney who doesn't share your race, gender, orientation, religion or lifestyle. You have nothing to lose but your own perspective and context.

Admittedly, I will never understand any one person's unique perspective, nor do I expect I ever could. As humans, and like the fabled "blind men of Indostan," we are destined to a partial view of the elusive "elephant." However, very much unlike the fabled "blind men," we are gifted with the choice to "see" a little more each day.