By Bill Yanger
"So tell me what happened."
As you may logically expect, that's typically the first thing I say when I meet a new client. And I have great deal of respect for a client's perception of the facts. They are entitled to and I give them the benefit of the doubt.
When I was a young, green and naïve lawyer I often put tremendous faith in those client perceptions. But get whiplashed a few times in a deposition or a courtroom and you learn to trust, but verify. The older I get the more I realize how easy it is for some folks to fall into that trap of assuming things are the way they are just because people say they are.
You've heard it before: "That restaurant is awful!" or "That doctor's a hack." It seems not to matter that the information came from a friend's brother's wife's aunt's cousin's plumber. If someone thinks it and says it, there must be some truth to it.
The cycle starts early. Most parents I know have had to field the emotional fallout from lunch table mean-girl or bully-boy comments about your kid or your kid's friends. We typically learn that the meanies in question are an insecure cluster of lonely jealous twerps having one/tenth the heart, talent and class as the targets of their vindictiveness. But it doesn't make the false word spread any less virulently through the school halls or make the ache of watching and wiping tears any less painful.
How often have you asked someone, "Hey, do you know Bob?" (or Fred or Sally or whomever...) and then made assumptions and decisions based upon the response with no further thought or inquiry. Most of us have gotten that phone call or email or text with a juicy tidbit about an acquaintance or a colleague and couldn't hang up and dial another buddy fast enough with the scoop. I've done it, certainly. It's human nature and it's inevitable. And like Captain Renault in Rick's Casablanca casino, I am shocked that people form opinions about others based purely upon conjecture, rumor and innuendo. Shocked, I say.
But my many years, parental experiences and particularly my profession have impressed upon me that while it may be human nature and it may be inevitable, it's still wrong. And it can sting. At the risk of over-thinking this thing, the next time you hear a juicy tidbit about something or someone else, I ask you to pause a minute and ask them, "How do you know?" or "Did you see her do it?", "Did you hear him say it?", "Were you even there?" Carpenters call it "measuring twice and cutting once."
Seem like words to live by.