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Don’t be ridiculous: Wordsworth is all about daffodils. That is not the business of lawyers:
“The main business of a lawyer is to take the romance, the mystery, the irony, the ambiguity out of everything he touches.”
(US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia)
And what is ‘Lawyer Brain’? One of the lawyer’s key skills is analysis, breaking things down. Critical thinking is a job requirement. That is what we enjoy doing as lawyers. But it can have unwelcome side effects. As one psychologist has written: “… Thinking ‘like a lawyer’ is fundamentally negative; it is critical, pessimistic and depersonalising …”.
If you think Wordsworth knew nothing about a bad day at the office, ask yourself if you have ever come home feeling:
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight
In trivial occupations and the round
Of ordinary [dealings with people] …”
John Stuart Mill – the philosopher and economist famous for his analytical mind – said that reading Wordsworth saved him from the depression brought on by his critical thinking. Melvyn Bragg has also spoken of how Wordsworth has been a lifeline for him, and for Stephen Fry it’s Keats and Larkin who have helped in dark times.
It’s topical, this question whether poetry can improve health and wellbeing. In early November 2018 the Government talked about “the power of the arts and social activities to improve the nation's health”. They call it ‘social prescribing’.
How does reading Wordsworth’s poetry cure Lawyer Brain’? We can see, by using the simple tools of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Essentially, CBT teaches that our feelings (e.g. depression) are caused not directly by ‘things’, but by the thoughts we have about those things (e.g. pessimistic thoughts) and the language in which we think those thoughts (e.g. dry, legal language). To help feelings of depression, therefore, we substitute creative thoughts that exercise the imagination, using the language of imagination, i.e. poetry.
If we look with fresh eyes at “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, we can see the basic contrast between the lawyer’s thinking and the poet’s:
Lawyer’s mindset v. Poet’s mindset
Approach: analytic creative
Thinking style: negative, pessimistic imaginative
Language: monotone, compressed full force of language
Feelings: depression sense of sublime, awe, delight
And as to where we end up, this is what John Stuart Mill said:
“… the delight which [Wordsworth’s] poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis.”
So try reading poetry with an awareness of its power to ‘invisibly repair the mind’ (Wordsworth’s words)”,
You can watch Francis Dingwall’s 15 minute presentation How reading Wordsworth cures ‘Lawyer Brain’ on YouTube.
Francis Dingwall is a LawCare volunteer and a solicitor and partner in Legal Risk LLP, a specialist firm of regulatory and insurance lawyers. He advises and represents law firms and individuals facing investigation by the SRA. He is also recognised as a leading professional indemnity insurance lawyer, and he regularly represents law firms and individual solicitors in policy coverage disputes with insurers.
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