Tuesday, October 10, 2006

bad for you, bad for me...

Another blogger got me thinking about titles and such. It's been a very important testimony for me, in my professional life.
I am not all the way there, yet.

I have lobbied children's issues for fifteen years or so in the Oregon legislature. There is a protocol of address there that is expected by the members and which, it is my observation, is actually enjoyed by those who conform to it.

One does not, as a witness in a committee meeting, talk first to the member of the committee who asked a question. One first addresses the chair of the committee.

"Madam Chair, Senator So and So..." is what one says.

One also customarily, prior to correcting or disagreeing with a member, says "With all due respect..." This is even true if correcting or disagreeing a member who is not present. One says, "With all due respect to the Good Senator/Representative..."

I have not seen members insisting on this protocol when it has been dispensed with by those who do not regularly appear before committees and don't know about it (ie, regular citizens who come in to testify). It did, however, raise some eyebrows when, as the Spirit worked to conform me, I dropped it altogether. I have been prepared to explain myself, should it be necessary, but no one has said or done anything to make me think it was necessary or appropriate.

It is interesting to me how people who are new to the process pick it up almost immediately and seem to enjoy using it.

It does, of course, no good service to anyone. Those who are so addressed get puffed up (and boy do they--although it is the deference shown to them due to the measure of power they hold that actually gets them out of whack with their concept of themselves in relation to the Creation as a whole and not so much the manifestation of that deference shown in this manner of address). And those who are deferential to them are demeaned although most of the lobbyists have a deep contempt for most of the members.

I do, of course, refer to members as "Senator" or "representative" because that is what they are. It's their job title and not a title of honor.

The other area that this testimony comes at me is when I am sitting as a judge. Since I am new at that, within the last year or so, I am still in transition in that regard. And I am a part timer, a "substitute judge" in someone else's courtroom. It's hard to have control.

I do try to insist that people call me judge, rather than "Your Honor," and that they not speak to me in the third person or an overly deferential way ("May it please the Court."). The part about people standing up when I walk in is a custom I cannot dispense with (at least not until/unless I have my own court room), and so as soon as the judicial assistant or bailiff says "all rise," I, having timed my entrance, immediately say "please be seated." But the Spirit is working on me in this regard and I am trying to develop a way to approach contending with the customs while I am there.

These two areas are some of the few in which the old fashioned deference forms remain. Most deference is more subtle in our culture, having to do with economic class.

Not much of a witness, I suppose, but it's mine. And it continues to develop


Peggy Senger Parsons said...

interesting thoughts from someone really in the courtroom regularly. Thank-you for taking the time to lay it out.

Tom and Sandy said...

I recall being in a courtroom in Marin County, CA at least 25 years ago. The bailiff called out, "All remain seated." The judge then rolled in in his wheelchair.


Johan Maurer said...

I've just been through a trial in Superior Court 1 in Wayne County, Indiana. The bailiff did not ask people to rise for the judge, who seemed to prefer coming in to the courtroom unannounced and immediately asking the people to remain seated. The custom at least in that courtroom is to rise for the arrival and departure of the jury.


Lorcan said...

I'll share my favorite two events with thee...
I was given the great trust of a bench in an Algonquin Nation's Court in Connecticut. The clerk called to congratulate me and called me "your honor." I had drafted the plan for the court to be formalized, while retaining the tradition methods of coming to consensus (I've a Juris Doctorate from NYU and work with marginalized cultural isolates*). Well, I say to my friend, "When I am on the bench, you can call me "judge" but in a consensus court, and as a Quaker, I avoid honorifics." The next morning the phone rings, "HEY JUDGE WHITEBREAD! [ the people of this nation are rather dark complexioned ... and I am very very very pale... ) I reply, "Sparrow... I think we can go back to "your honor."

Today I testify as an expert on certain marginalized communities. I dress plain ever day, big broad brimmed hat, ( about which I carry a letter from the district court supervisor as it remains on my head... ) Well, the judge asks if I will affirm to tell the truth, off the record, before we go on record, as he is sorting out how to accommodate my faith.
"Of course not!" I reply. "If anyone affirms or swears to tell the truth, that person has not thought very deeply. Truth is a matter of perspective, and I hope together we might approach the truth. To approach the truth, I will speak with scrupulous honesty from the perspective of my qualifications, my life's experiences, and my conversations with the respondent!" The judge smiled and said, "That is perfect, let's put that on the record."

I think we, as Friends in court have a real challenge to think about how we live our testimonies while serving our profession, and if we do, we serve that profession very well indeed!
Thine in the light

JT said...

I had a conversation on the subject of honorifics with a (non-Quaker) friend the other day. He thinks we should dispense with titles altogether in pursuit of a more egalitarian way of addressing one another. That makes sense, of course... but there are a great number of people, people who carry the title of professor or judge or any other title, whom I respect greatly and whom i don't want to call by their given name. Of course it stinks that society requires us to use honorifics with people who don't really merit our respect, but it's also good to at least start with the presumption that a person deserves the title he's been given. Otherwise, it might be difficult for a judge to keep order in the court if the presumption is that he's no more honorable than anyone else- if he's not honorable, he really shouldn't be a judge, should he?

Just some thoughts, I guess.

Susie Day said...

Greetings Friend,

I have selected your Quaker blog for inclusion in the "Blogging for Worship" listings at Quaker.zebby.org. I hope this will help bring more visitors to your blog. If you would like to return the favor and help the other quaker bloggers as well, please consider using one of the stickers available on my page. Speaking of "Titles" (albeit a different kind), your blog articles will be easier to read from an rss/atom feed if you enable post titles, although I try to list posts anyway if there aren't titles.