Civility and Mental Health Work Hand in Hand

Conveniently, Mother’s Day lands on or near my birthday. Every year, I tell my mom she’s the best birthday gift ever and she tells me I’m the best Mother’s Day gift ever. It may be sappy, but my adoption gave me a family and a purpose. I choose my family law practice every day, because I know I can help someone change their life. In my TYLA journey, I’ve had the opportunity to share two of my favorite things: my family and civility.

Family was important to both late U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, even though their families looked different from each other’s. Scalia corrected his nine children whenever they said “uh” or “um.” He also taught them his quick wit because his children loved to remind him of each time he said “uh” or “um” during his confirmation hearing.1 Ginsburg is famous for her dissents, but not her cooking. Ginsburg’s daughter once told an interviewer, “Her father did the cooking and her mother did the thinking.”2 Next time you say “um” in a hearing or burn toast, know that you are in good company.

Yes, there are examples of civility other than Ginsburg and Scalia. But I keep returning to them because they talked fondly about their friendship. They said that their friendship made them better people and better lawyers. Hamilton is a great musical, but it isn’t a good example of the relationship between two lawyers. The Scalia-Ginsburg friendship has taken on a pop culture life of its own and even inspired an opera about the two late justices.3 We aren’t winning any Grammys or Tonys, but I am so proud of our Civility for All project. Students can learn about the Scalia-Ginsburg friendship and they can learn why civility is valuable.

Recently, I attended an inspiring presentation about wellness and burnout given by Erica Grigg, the director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP. This program is one of the best services that the State Bar of Texas provides. I learn something new at each TLAP presentation, and I’m reminded of advice I’ve forgotten. In the practice of law, we review the case file again before hearings and meetings because we need the reminder. We could all use a refresher on civility and wellness. Check out tlaphelps.org and civilityforall.tyla.org. Civility and mental health work hand in hand. When we help others, we feel better.4 I can’t prevent opposing counsel from sending a rude email, but I can choose civility when I respond. Sometimes I do draft the email I really want to send, but I never actually send it. Civility isn’t convincing someone else that you’re right. It is listening and communicating with the goal that you understand each other’s positions better.

Millennials are often teased that we spoil our pets and consider them children. I consider my Labrador retriever, Khaleesi, my “fur child.” Khaleesi’s grandparents spoil her like a human grandchild too. I remind Khaleesi to be civil, but a lot of moms out there would empathize when I say she has the teenager eye roll perfected. Happy Mother’s Day to the moms of humans, dogs, cats, and whatever other critters you consider children. As Erica reminded me recently, our families (pets always included!) are important to our mental health and our mental health is always important. That extra ear scratch I gave Khaleesi this morning was a very important and productive part of my day.

Jeanine Novosad Rispoli
2021-2022 President, Texas Young Lawyers Association

For more information on TYLA, contact them at tyla@texasbar.com or go to tyla.org.


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