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Litigation News | 2022

Lessons in Resiliency from a Lawyer Under Fire

Joseph Beckman


  • The author reflects on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and caring for their elderly mother, prompting them to view well-being from a different perspective.
  • Lessons of resilience and authenticity are demonstrated by Ukraine's leaders, particularly President Zelenskyy, in the face of adversity.
  • Readers are encourage to find peace and adopt a quiescent mindset, aiming to "be the ball" in their personal and professional lives.
Lessons in Resiliency from a Lawyer Under Fire
Andrii Chagovets via Getty Images

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Several weeks ago, I handed in my quarterly column. Two developments since that time caused me to beg the higher-ups at Litigation News to put that piece on the back burner in favor of this one, which I hastily composed past deadline.

One development I suspect may resonate with many of our readers: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The second is much more personal: my recent trip to my sister’s house to spend a week providing “respite care” to our 93-year-old mother.

What do these disparate events have to do with a wellness column? I think, after six hours of reflection as I drove home to Chicago, they prompted me to get out of my own head and look at well-being from a different perspective.

War … What Is It Good For .…?

The rejoinder to this call is, of course: “Absolutely nothing … Say it again, y’all.” That statement is true, particularly if you are living (or trying to live) in the war zone.

So how does this war impact the well-being of those of us who are thousands of miles from the battlefield and not at imminent risk of grievous bodily harm? It affords the opportunity for us—if we choose to take it—to better see the big picture and reconnect with our humanity.

Those of us who choose to follow the near constant news reports can witness and—if we choose—empathize with the powerful emotions that accompany a wide range of often traumatic human experiences. We see the horrors that man is capable of inflicting on his fellow man. We see the impact of politics and the political/economic calculus of cynical and opportunist leaders on the lives of ordinary people.

(This is not an “invasion,” according to the Kremlin. It is “laughably” presented to ordinary Russians as a “special military operation” designed to rid Ukraine of “Nazism.” By the time this piece appears in print, we will know much more about the results of this “special operation.” The wellness lessons are likely the same, however—whether “good” or “evil” prevails when peace returns.)

What we might learn, and apply to our own lives, is the strength of human spirit. Ukraine’s army, with assistance from thousands of ordinary Ukrainians, has risen to the occasion. The Ukrainians have stalled and repelled (at this writing the last week of March) an invasion by a numerically superior invading force. This has frustrated Russia, which has switched to siege tactics, including long-range artillery and missile attacks on civilian targets and institutions.

Ukraine’s leaders have demonstrated an amazing emotional (and admirable tactical) response. While it may be an overstatement to say they are “taking [Russian supplied] lemons and making lemonade,” the emotional tone they have struck, at least in my view, is no small part of their success to this point in both rallying the Ukrainian people and frustrating Russia from achieving the goals of its unprovoked invasion.

There is a lesson in perseverance here if you look for it. Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has a law degree but went into entertainment. A comedian and former TV star, he leveraged his fame in an unlikely ascent to Ukraine’s top elected office, naming his political party after the fictional party of which he was a member on his popular Servant of the People TV show. (Hmm .… that feels like a vaguely familiar path to office in these times.) Prior to the invasion, his approval rating as president was in the 20 to 30 percent range. At this writing, it is over 90 percent.

Sometimes How You Frame the Problem Opens the Path to the Solution

Zelenskyy has astutely leveraged social media to rally his people in a manner that is frank and authentic. At the same time, he includes an emotional component that has deeply affected many in the West who had historically been reluctant to get involved.

He has proved to be a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin, who has reportedly ordered multiple assassination attempts. While Zelenskyy does not, at least from my quick review, elect to leverage his comic chops to outright dismiss these attempts on his life, he responds to them in what is a healthy way—he acknowledges their existence, yet he pushes ahead despite obstacles that might cause someone whose resilience muscles are less developed to run away.

Russia, by contrast, has criminalized protests and attempted to censor media coverage. Compared with the approach of its adversary, this feels more like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” psychological approach.

What Does This Have to Do with Me?

As lawyers, we sometimes feel we have the weight of the world upon us. That sense of responsibility can (and often does) drive us to do our best work. It can also cause us to feel overwhelmed and out of gas.

Putin, despite a near iron grip on public discourse, is often photographed at the end of a long table, a dozen or more feet away from his subordinates. His current romantic partner and their children are in a bunker in a remote part of Russia. Reports say he has every meal “poison tested.”

By contrast, Zelenskyy is winging it, meeting people via Zoom while moving about to avoid attempts on his life. I respectfully submit that Zelenskyy’s self-awareness, candor, and authenticity is not only the path that is easier to root for and respect. It is also the emotionally healthier one.

An Emotional Reaction to Adversity from Another Perspective

The reason for my drive to Chicago was to provide respite care to my 93-year-old mother so that my sister (an ER charge nurse by training) and her husband could get a week of vacation. They moved Mom into their townhouse, which has a small elevator, after she fell and broke her hip last September.

Thankfully, Mom has avoided the family’s predisposition to Alzheimer’s. Instead, her body is breaking down, something of which she is acutely aware. The need to relearn mobility, and the attendant loss of control, has been difficult emotionally.

Her situation is nowhere near as precarious as Zelenskyy’s. As I write this, however, I am conscious of the possibility (if not the likelihood) that one (or both) of the two may no longer be with us by the time this column appears in print.

My conversations with my mother have been, as always, delightfully varied and analytical. One change in Mom is that, as the years have sapped her physical vitality, she has evolved into a more emotionally phlegmatic being. (That is not something I have typically witnessed over a lifetime surrounded by strong-willed women of Italian extraction!)

As with Zelenskyy, Mom seems at peace with where her journey has taken her. Both have, for entirely separate reasons, discovered the ability to, as Chevy Chase told Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, “just be the ball.”

There is a lesson, or maybe just a perspective, we can take from one (or both) of these examples. Would that type of quiescence be a benefit to you personally and, by extension, a benefit to your clients and those you love?

As I proof my editor’s suggested revisions a week after submitting this column, my sense is the two have inspired me to strive to “be the ball.”