It’s Only New To You

There’s a joke that Keith Kaplan tells on twitters every once in a while, when someone new jumps into the middle of a discussion that’s been going on forever.

It’s like Twitter is a bar argument that resets every time a new patron walks in and says, “so, what are we fighting about today?”

For the new guy, it’s all new.* What a cool argument! Let’s start at the beginning, running through every claim, real or imagined, every argument, sound or debunked, as if nobody ever said it, thought it, discussed it before. Hey, isn’t the new guy entitled to start the journey again, for himself? And aren’t you, the old guy, obliged to suffer through it again? Multiply that by ten, ten thousand, and it gets old fast.

As my old pal Mark Herrmann, the author of the Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, said, “I grow old.

I used a similar title for one of my columns at ATL about four years ago, but I figure about 90 percent of my readership has turned over since then. And the substance of this column is very different from the substance of the old one.

The link in the quote probably won’t take you anywhere. If ATL still had an editor, that might have been caught and corrected, but the putative boss, Joe Patrice, is too busy trying to come up with snarky ways to goad the unduly passionate into mindless abandon to bother with such mundane chores as fixing links. Here’s the link Mark intended to include, a post about how we all grow older (if we’re lucky, of course).

I read recently (in the New York Times, I think, but Google won’t let me find the article) about how growing old changes your perspective on things. You no longer count the number of laps that you’ve run, but instead focus on the number of laps remaining in the race.

Mark and I both started practicing law the same year, 1983, so I get what he’s saying. The point is that n00bs don’t, can’t, because they haven’t gone through our experiences. And that brings us back to his latest post.

Here’s the substance of this column: You should always think about your audience, including the age of your audience, when you speak. After all, as difficult as it is to believe, it isn’t about you when you speak; it’s about your audience. If, as is likely, you’re not yet 50, please consider the fact that your audience might have a great deal more experience than you do.

He goes on to give examples, like the new corporate person who wants to reinvent the wheel at the start of a meeting that everyone else in the room has endured for decades before, or the new associate who comes to the epiphany about how some banal aspect of law works and wants to tell you all about his discovery, at great length, without considering for a moment that you not only know it already, but know it in a thousand permutations that he’s yet to see or even realize exists.

Because Mark writes for ATL, which was once a snarky and interesting law blog many years ago, he puts it in terms of law.

So please don’t put on your I’m-advising-the-client voice, puff yourself up, and start explaining to me that filing a notice of removal divests the state court of jurisdiction, so the state court status conference won’t go forward as scheduled.  I was writing articles about removal before you were born (I think). If it matters that the state court loses jurisdiction when you file a notice of removal, mention that fact, of course, but please don’t think that it’s news to me.

But Mark also realizes, because what else can an old man do, that what experienced lawyers have long since internalized, even “forgotten” in the midst of the millions of things they’ve learned, has yet to be learned by the baby lawyers.

I even know a couple of sophisticated things; after all, I’ve been practicing law for much longer than you have. Please don’t waste time telling me these things.

Experience is no longer valued. Someone lied to the kids and told them that their opinions matter as much as anyone else’s, that they’re oh so very smart, that they are entitled to the attention, even interest, of old lawyers. And to prove the point, it’s the olds who turned the world into the fiasco it is, every one of us is personally responsible for climate change and Trump.

And sadly, the babies not only hate the olds for their personal awfulness in ruining their lives and world, but not quietly sitting there, listening to their every heartfelt sob and notion, and nodding our heads approvingly as they regurgitate whatever their “thought leaders” taught them. Why won’t we tell them how wonderful they are? Why won’t we gush, “Oh yes, you’re so right”? Why won’t we quietly suffer their reimagination of reality and realize that the entirety of humanity that preceded them was wrong and stupid, and they, in their first twelve minutes of adulthood, have solved all of life’s sticky problems?

George Santayana warned us that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Then again, he’s an old, so who cares what he says? But we were young once. We were just as full of piss and vinegar as you are now. When we stumbled onto what seemed like the solution to one of life’s great mysteries, we were filled with our brilliance and self-importance.

And then, over time, over experience, we came to realize that we didn’t invent the idea, that many before us had considered and, through experience, came to the realization that there was far more to humanity that just wouldn’t give way to our simple idealistic views.

As Skink sometimes tells someone new here, this here hotel is full of people who have been there before, thought the same thoughts they’re first discovering, and learned the hard way that humanity doesn’t want to be so easily saved. Just because you’re the new patron doesn’t mean we want to start at scratch and go through it again. It’s really not personal. We really do understand where you’re coming from. It’s just that we’ve all walked that road before, usually many times, and don’t want to walk it again into our grave.

*There was a slogan that a network used to market its summer reruns, “if you didn’t see it the first time, it’s new to you.”

10 thoughts on “It’s Only New To You

  1. Quinn Martindale

    On the other hand, there are the people who think their experience means they’ve got nothing left to learn or whose considered opinions are really just the prejudices of their age. How many opinions of the average lawyer who passed the bar in 1946 were you right to disregard?

    1. SHG Post author

      I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy
      To be calm when you’ve found something going on
      But take your time, think a lot
      Think of everything you’ve got
      For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

      1. Guitardave

        How can I try to explain?
        ‘Cause when I do, he turns away again
        It’s always been the same,
        same old story.
        From the moment I could talk
        I was ordered to listen
        Now there’s a way, and I know
        That I have to go away
        I know I have to go

  2. Keith

    I feel seen.

    I am older than I once was
    And younger than I’ll be
    But that’s not unusual
    No, it isn’t strange

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