Yeah, me too!
I always envision the Best Supporting Actress’ personal assistant sitting at home, cross-legged on the couch, head in hands, muttering, “oh my God … I’d like to sue the Academy … she was insufferable before, but … now she’s won!” And then, attempting to rally, “well, really … how much worse could she get?”
Oh honey, you’re going to be color-sorting M&M’s to her whims for quite some time … so humbled is she.
Okay, so clearly you do not know what “humbled” means – maybe English is your second language, I don’t know … because winning an Oscar, or a Grammy, or being referred to as a national treasure … those kinds of things – yeah, those are all the exact opposite of being humbled.
If you want to know what it means to be “humbled,” try shopping at a food pantry with your sullen fifteen year old daughter. That’s humbled. Or … standing onstage at the Oprah Show after having lost 400 lbs showing a plastic surgeon – and all of America – enough yardage of your loose skin to make a pup tent – yeah, that’ s humbled. Colonoscopies … are you getting it now?
Preparing clients for their hearings is one of my least favorite things to do. Because when you prepare a person for hearing, you have to get them to stop exaggerating about their functionality. You have to get them to start fessing up to their truly humbled state – not some bogus, ‘I’d like to thank the Academy, look at meeee … I’m so humble’ state.
The myth is that claimants lie by saying they can’t do things they can, but the reality is that they say they can do things they can’t … or they are things they aren’t. They hang on to a positive sense of self. And they defend it.
It is a bit like watching the first round of American Idol where people who really can’t sing, think they can. And I have to be Simon Cowell. But … … and I will deny ever having said this … I aspire to being … Paula Abdul.
That’s a really hard sentence to write!
But, yes, I aspire to being encouraging, gushy, ever so slightly over-medicated, “I’m your biggest fan!!!” Paula Abdul.
So, here’s a typical example of me in a hearing prep: “How long can you stand?”
“Oh, probably about an hour.”
“Okay, so if you and I went grocery shopping on the day before Thanksgiving, and the store was super crowded, there was a big, hour-long line for us to stand in together, you’d be able to do that?”
“No way! I’d have to find a bench at the front of the store. Or go to the car … or just leave. I’ve left stores many times, or I don’t even go in, if I can tell it’s crowded from the parking lot. I need to get in and out as fast as possible because I can’t walk that long … or stand.”
“Okay, so how long do you think you can stand realistically.”
“Probably about 10 minutes. My sciatica is the worst problem … and my left knee. Yeah, probably about 10 minutes, then I’d need to sit.”
“Okay. Got it.”
After a few hours of getting a person to look realistically at capacities, to quesion them on specifics, they begin to give voice to their incapacity.
It is extremely difficult for most people to confront their shortcomings, and to give voice to them. It is devastating for people. Truly.
And, for the record, I tell my clients, “look, if you really can do that, you must say you can. You must be honest. But, I don’t want you to say you can do things you can’t. Again, you have to be honest.”
I was asking vulnerable, humbled people to reveal embarrassing facts about their lack of functionality. I was asking them to tell me how their bodies were inadequate, or their minds … or both. I was asking them to reveal honestly how they can’t function … and why they need disability benefits.
It was shockingly more difficult than I ever would have imagined.
For a person to reveal those things, it requires trust. Or desperation. I hoped for trust, but would settle for desperation.
I tried various things to help establish trust. What I discovered worked best was to show clients copies of my own medical records. I requested all of my own medical records, put them in a binder, and highlighted in bright yellow anything a normal person would find embarrassing.
“See? I ain’t perfect either. We all live in bodies.”
At least it made the point that we were equals, that I was willing to be self-revelatory in ways I was asking them to be.
Wouldn’t it be cool if hearings started out with each person in attendance revealing at least one embarrassing fact about themselves – just to break the ice?
“Counsel, would you like to make an opening statement?”
“Yes, your Honor, before we get on to my client’s weaknesses of character and constitution, I would like you all to know that I have been told I snore, and I am a sole practitioner because my personality – again, I’ve been told – is unbearably grating on other human beings.”
Helping clients prepare for what they are likely to encounter in a hearing depends upon which judge is assigned to the case.
Administrative Law Judges are just like people – complex and varied. Most are respectful, know the law, and do their jobs well. A few judges behave so abominably in the courtroom one can charitably conclude they are sadists. The best Administrative Law Judges remain admirably engaged despite witnessing a seemingly endless parade of human frailty.
I remember with fondness a judge, now retired whose sense of humanity never failed. We were in a hearing once in which a claimant was speaking to her physical impairments, explaining she could no longer lift, and stand, no longer walk, and cook, no longer host barbecues at her house, to which the neighborhood children would come. She had no children herself, but loved kids, and … it was a loss.
Just as she began to lose her composure and started to cry … the judge masterfully switched her up, asking, “did you make your own barbecue sauce? I try to make my own, but it never turns out right.”
“Oh yes,” she said.
And the two shared recipes for a few minutes before moving on to other relevancies.
Relevancies like all the ways in which her inadequacies required her to be in his courtroom asking for help.
Movie stars – saturated in praise, and recognition – pretentiously affect humility.
For people who are, in fact, humbled, it is quite difficult to yield the admission.