Vail Daily column: Literature is a gateway to understanding
I devour books with the gusto of a great white. It is as if I live parallel lives. One existence is confined to the boundaries of our alleged reality and the other explores the imaginations of the world’s great and not-so-great writers. My reading list is non-discriminatory: I have read the vast majority of the canon, but I am certainly not above a “beach read” either. Reading not being a competition, I have no score to consult for the amount of books I have read in my 34 years, but a thousand would be a conservative estimate. In this genre- and centuries- spanning endeavor, I have learned more than in all of my years of formal schooling. Literature has provided an insight into the human condition that is absolutely instrumental to the successful performance of my jobs as an attorney and mediator.
Missing the Bigger Picture
Lawyers who concentrate only on the application of law to facts miss the bigger picture. The profession is as much, if not more, about psychology and social work as it is about mastering arcane legal concepts. This principle is magnified many fold for mediation, a process that requires plumbing the depths of emotion and ego in order to uncover the fodder for resolution. As my undergraduate degree is in geography, I never received formal instruction on the complex machine that is the human psyche. I needed to intuit the necessary outlook via other avenues.
An outgoing and well-traveled sort, much of what I have learned about people was gleaned simply from engaging with many of them in various situations. Yet, despite some intense connections and deep conversations throughout the years, people are still inherently guarded. Literature liberates the impulse to restrain and sets forth a writer’s internal machinations for the world to see. Careful reading of an author’s oeuvre allows one to plot the writer’s mental path and analyze predilections, fears, motivations, and other impulses. When this process is repeated for multiple authors, one begins to compile a loose map of the human journey.
Most would think that nonfiction would be the more useful form of literary education. No doubt that there is much to learn from a factual exploration of a given subject or concept, biased as it may be by the author’s specific perspective. But for my particular purposes, it is the fancies and fantasies of fiction that prove most useful. Indeed, fiction is often better undergirded by the facts emanating from the author’s experiences than is nonfiction.
Establish Common Ground
In my job, I come across people of all stripes. The quarrel that led them to my door was presaged by a lifetime of physical and emotional ordeals, some positive and many of which have left scars. My upbringing, though not without its scrapes, was largely blissful (thanks Mom and Pops!). In order to offer assistance, I must be able to establish common ground or at least possess a modicum of understanding. In an initial encounter, it is both rude and potentially destructive to launch into an examination that would take decades of dedicated therapy. But, perhaps even subconsciously, I have hints about how to begin. These clues were offered in stories.
“The Count of Monte Cristo” taught me something about love, loss, patience and vengeance. Tom Robbins showed me how to try to cope with living in an absurd world. The traumas, trivialities and triumphs of growing up in an environment of leisure and excess were detailed by a number of authors both high- and lowbrow, including Fitzgerald in “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” and “This Side of Paradise” and Kevin Kwan in “Crazy Rich Asians.” A passage here or a comment there are mental waypoints to which I can refer when faced with a situation for which I have no personal context. Accounts of abuse or neglect are poignant reminders not only of my good fortune but that the petty dispute in which my client is involved is not life-altering.
Since we are barely able to understand ourselves, let alone have a complete knowledge of others, the comprehension offered by books can only go so far. I do not claim to fathom what it is like to be an orphan because I read “Oliver Twist.” But, if nothing else, the information gathered from reading provides a platform for empathy. It is upon that bedrock that I can build a meaningful plan for legal action or a strategy for crafting a mutually acceptable settlement. As an ancillary benefit, the sheer joy of reading allows a temporary respite from the stress of addressing constant conflict.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.