Month: December 2017

Legal communicationNarrativeResilienceSelf-careWork-life balance

Hygge for lawyers

Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” “coziness of the soul,” and the “absence of annoyance,” to “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,” “cozy togetherness,” and … “cocoa by candlelight.”

Hygge is an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life—or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company—or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.

Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (2017)

In my last post of 2017, here’s something I’ve wanted to do all year: write about “hygge.”

The quote above from The Little Book of Hygge gives a good sense of what it is; it’s also claimed as the reason the Danish people are apparently the happiest in Europe. It’s the opposite of self-help trends such as “eating clean,” according to The Little Book of Hygge’s publisher:

Hygge is about embracing things—enjoying cake, not checking work emails all weekend, spending time with friends and family. It’s about the simple, small pleasures that make life great, which perhaps sometimes pass us by.

For some, the holiday season is a time to embrace the hygge with family and friends. NPR has this article on how to host a hygge holiday party.

But the hygge experience does not have to be limited to a holiday respite. I had a really rough first semester in law school, and one saving grace was the hygge qualities of the rental house I shared with three roommates. We had lots of nooks with comfy seating, pillows and throw blankets, lamps all around with soft lighting, a friendly cat, tons of mugs for always-brewing coffee and tea, shared meals, and good conversation whenever you wanted, but no obligation to talk. While my perception of the 1L law-school environment got worse and worse, I was able to take comfort in our cozy home and the people in it. Looking back, the first semester of law school just totally sucked, and everything got better from there. I’m grateful to my roommates—now lifelong friends—who made the environment that helped so much during that initial low point.

Away from home, aspects of hygge can make an office more supportive. The Little Book of Hygge suggests maintaining a small office garden, adding a sofa rather than just office chairs, starting a Friday office potluck tradition, and—in a perfect world (that’s an editorial comment by me) even bringing your dog to work. One of the happiest lawyers I know started his own firm and does just that, pretty much every day.

IMG_7403

This is not my dog, but I stopped and had a hygge moment with him.

So having a “hyggelig” environment can help any lawyer with the behind-the-scenes wellness. Beth Padgett of South Carolina Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers program wrote about hygge for lawyers in the March 2017 issue of the S.C. bar publication (page 9 here):

Many people find the work of improving their mental or emotional health (or even their attitude) to be daunting for a host of reasons. Hygge seems to be a simple and nonthreatening way to create some change.

Note: For those who struggle during the holidays, here and here are some suggestions on supporting them.

 

GenderLegal communicationPeople skillsProfessional identity

Listening in the Family

Last week’s allegations of sexual harassment against Judge Alex Kozinski brought a response by the judge:

“I treat all of my employees as family and work very closely with most of them.”

Invoking the family is not an entirely warm-and-fuzzy metaphor, as several have pointed out (hat tip to @gokpkd for pointing out this thread):

Family is both a place where people can let their guard down—this could mean everyone in the family, or just some, or just one. It’s also a place where ingrained patterns can replicate themselves over and over—for good, or for bad. The experience of being in a family sets up your framework, or “schemata,” for understanding what happens inside that family, as noted in Debra Worthington and Margaret Fitch-Hauser’s text Listening: Processes, Functions, and Competencies. For children, early family experiences also influence the way they communicate with everyone else in the world.

Families can be classified in two communication orientations, according to family-studies scholarship cited in Worthington and Fitch-Hauser:

  • Conversation orientation, in which all family members converse freely about a wide variety of subjects.
  • Conformity orientation, in which “a family stresses the importance of having homogenous attitudes, values, and beliefs.” Such families “stress[] the importance of hierarchy and clear rules.”

It struck me in reading reports on Judge Kozinski’s chambers that the environment sounds like the worst of all worlds: Judge Kozinski himself certainly appeared to take a broad and flexible orientation toward conversation topics, including but not limited to pornography. But clerks themselves were expected to conform, according to Heidi Bond’s account. She reports being asked to control her own reading preferences as the judge ordered; she reports the judge grabbed her arm and described her as his “slave.”   That’s not healthy. And the extent of just how toxic this environment was, for some clerks, continues to unfold.

Even for those not reporting harassment or heeding internal alarm bells prompting them to avoid the judge, the family metaphor could be troubling. I was reminded of another post on company executives invoking family:

Whenever executives talk about how their company is really like a big ol’ family, beware. They’re usually not referring to how the company is going to protect you no matter what or love you unconditionally. You know, like healthy families would. The motive is rather more likely to be a unidirectional form of sacrifice: Yours.

Months before these allegations against the judge, the “family” metaphor was being taken down by Sam Sanders (@samsanders). His thread (and many responses to it) explored how work as a family may really mean not only exploiting the powerless but also hiding what’s wrong and protecting secrets:

What is a strong and healthy family? Fitch-Hauser and Worthington describe a strong family as follows:

  • Commitment to the family and well-being of its members
  • Positive communication and the ability to engage in constructive conflict management
  • Regular expression and confirmation of affection among family members
  • Enjoyment of quality time together
  • A feeling of spiritual well-being
  • Ability to effectively manage stress and crisis situations.

This list reinforces that work may have some characteristics of a family. One would hope the workplace offers constructive conflict management and the ability to manage crisis situations.

But work is not family. Family is family.