This post is inspired by a conversation I had on Friday with a lawyer who told me of such a gruelling story that I have hardly thought of anything else since. I will come to it shortly, but one of the reflections I have had about what I was told is of the nature and power of stories, and especially who tells the story.
History is all about who tells the story. There has to be a narrator because history is just too big otherwise. The whole of everything that has ever gone before. An almost infinite number of experiences, events, conversations, glances, tears, giggles, pain and fears. And all remembered differently by those who were there. Each memory an individual’s version of the truth – what they saw from their vantage point, what they heard, what they felt. Each separate moment a multi-faceted experience. No one angle, or point in time, the same for any two people. Who tells the story is our entry point to understanding, but through their lens.
Then when we then reflect on past moments, we look at them through our own lens of our experiences and feelings as they are today. History fades or is enhanced or repainted with each new reflection of today’s light upon it.
History therefore is not a singular, linear truth; it is a mine of buried memories which are extracted, refined and then traded. This is not to deny history or to disrespect its study, it is just to observe that the past was only real once, and for those who lived it.
It therefore feels imperative to be influential in our own stories. To do what we can while we can to make the difference. To be our narrator and not an extra in the scenes of our own lives.
The reflection for me is that I need to do more today. I need to speak up more because while I may not be powerful, I am not powerless. I need to trust my judgement more and not be overwhelmed by feeling small. History may make me pause, but it is not a weight to hold me down, it is instead the foundation on which to lay my contribution.
When I look back on my career, there was a reason I wanted to become a lawyer, but it was not to honour a profession steeped in traditions; I was in fact far more intimidated than I was inspired by its history. The reason I wanted to become a lawyer was to change things. This was not a grand ambition to alter the course of history. It was more to help make things a little fairer for people, one problem solved at a time.
The frame we are given as lawyers by our ethical code is an extraordinary gift that empowers influence. It requires that I must act in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice. I must act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in the legal services I provide. That I will act with independence, with honesty, with integrity, in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion, and always in the best interests of each client.
This is not permission to sit back and marvel at our exceptionalism and privilege, instead it is a challenge to play our part. To make a difference. It saddens me hugely when senior lawyers downplay the importance of this frame. It is as if to discuss their ethical conduct is to question their innate goodness. I believe the frame is our shield and our weapon, we are lucky to have it and we should be proud to honour it.
As mentioned earlier, I spent some time this week listening to a lawyer pour out his heart to me on a call, as he described his loneliness when first fighting for what was right, but then resigning from a company in which he had discovered systemic fraud. I will be writing to him this weekend to offer all the support I can. He is a lawyer of exceptional courage. A hero. He played his part flawlessly, made his contribution and he was not found wanting, but he has lost his job and feels alone.
The company that employed him may write a different story and probably will. It will be a kind of history too, but not the truth. It is also possible that the lawyer’s story may never be written. His story may not inform a wider world. His story may be lost in time, but it is the truth and it will live with me forever.
History is a big word that includes everything past. But not all history is told, and not all the history that is told is true. We know, however, that history informs and can inspire, let us therefore find the stories that speak to us and share them with others so that they can be inspired too. Most importantly of all, never forget your story. It is the one that counts most, and it should also be told.