Evidence is the Place where Law, COVID 19 and Liberty Meet

“Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?”  This famous quote most often attributed to the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup” has been altered on several occasions over the years adding the word “lyin” because it makes the question even more poignant by suggesting the conclusion.  The distinction between the evidence we see (or hear) and the alleged proof we are force-fed is often quite different, even acrimonious.  As a trial lawyer and advocate for the pursuit of happiness, aka individual liberty, these issues create the perfection intersection for discussion.

To begin, proof portends at least an implied conclusion and hurdles the concept of any critical thought.  Making the statement that one has proof that something works, or that proof is necessary before taking some action, already has the result in mind.  The result may be desired in some instances or unwanted in others.  However, the truth remains that when one argues in “proof” language, one already sees the result and seeks to reach it or to stop it. 

Evidence demands thought and asks the viewer/listener to reach a thoughtful conclusion.  The law deals in evidence, not proofs though many attorneys and “experts” in law use the term.  “The proofs will show. . .” is one of my most despised lines during a trial.  In law, burden of proof has different standards or levels precisely because to meet a burden, evidence is required and then the trier of fact, usually a jury, places those facts on the applicable burden scale for the type of case at hand.  When proofs are proclaimed, facts are usually missing or at least highly malleable.

The COVID 19 crisis poses the question of proof versus evidence quite nicely.  On t.v. and radio, medical experts or “scientists” have repeatedly said that there is no conclusive proof that certain therapies like hydroxychloroquine are effective in treating the virus.  They chirp that clinical trials, statistically significant testing and conclusive data are needed to prove that the relatively safe drug works.  The counter belief is that many physicians, also scientists one may add, have ordered the therapies and relieved very sick patients of the virus.  The results are offered as evidence that the therapies are effective at least in many individual cases.

Evidence is better than proof, at least as any individual should approach the question.  There is a simple question at the heart of the issue.  If you were sick (possibly dying) and offered a drug that was relatively safe and was shown to have been effective in many other individual patients, would you choose to undergo the therapy based on that evidence?  Or, would you choose to forego treatment and wait for the scientific proof from the experts who are looking at the statistical data?  How about for your child, or husband, or mom?  We all know the answer and some pretend they do not.  The same debate raged over HIV many years ago and the same Dr. Fauci was at its center.  As is often the case in matters where science meets ethics meets common sense, those on the side of evidence become those wanting the proof, and those on the side of waiting for proof want to proceed on the evidence.  Interesting?  Not really, just foolish.  

In a trial, juries decide cases based on evidence presented combined with their everyday life experiences, or common sense as we call it.  The proponents of evidence desire no more than allowing individuals to be presented with the facts and then deciding for themselves what actions are warranted.  The advocates of proof want to look for conclusions and then decide for everyone else.  In short, evidence allows liberty and proof suppresses it.  Like Devo, “I’ll say it again in the land of the free”—“Freedom of choice is what you’ve got; Freedom from choice is you want.”

The happy want evidence so they can act, the unhappy want proof so they have an excuse to wait.


Advancement in the Time of Covid-19: A Virus is Always the Vaccine

A virus becomes the vaccine.  Doses of uncertainty, hoarding, panic, reality and then ultimately reflection will be the steps of our current events.  With any perceived crisis, the first response is often the Henny Penny cry.  With time, thoughtful reflection will set in soon enough.  The initial reactionary position will be forgotten like the common cold.  The thoughtful reflection is the portion that will endure and transform our lives in inverse proportion to the initial cry.

Small doses of crises inoculate us from new crises and teach the best ways to respond.  Doses of unhappiness lead us to seek ways to be happy.  Large doses of crises lead to superhuman responses.  Think about a matter of life and death—a rollover accident with a car on top of the driver.  One man witnesses the accident and lifts the car off from the trapped driver.  We have all read about these stories and have seen them depicted on t.v. or in movies.  People reach beyond their former capabilities under real pressure.  People will become more capable out of this crisis.  People will become happier in ways they had been previously incapable of believing or even contemplating.  The virus will spawn the cure in our practical, day-to-day lives and more importantly in the broader picture of ourselves.

Practical changes for each day:

  1. Time:  Being at home now means no harrowing commute for those who typically must jump out of bed and enter the grind to travel to a far away cubical.  No commute time wasted means more TIME to work more efficiently, and in turn, save more time for ourselves.  Happiness and wealth, two complex subjects, are connected to control over our own time.  Enter more time, enter more time to pursue happiness.
  2. Education alternatives:  Students will learn something quite valuable, in more ways than one.  Tens of thousands of dollars are spent annually by college students to congregate in lousy housing, to pay for lousy food choices and to study subjects that offer no real end value.  The crisis will teach the ease of learning through virtual classrooms and cut college costs in half for those who continue the new path to a degree.  Younger students may prefer such methods as well once they learn that it works.  The value of learning may very likely become more valuable.
  3. Work alternatives:   Working from home has been resisted by many while embraced by others.  Old school companies and employees resist working from home due to perceived goofing off, lack of face time with coworkers and myriad other reasons. These folks are the same ones who do not see the time wasted by the gossipers, back-biters and socializers in the office environment.  The crisis has sent many home and as productivity remains steady or increases as predicted here, many more companies will embrace and expand the idea.  The virus will help cure unhappiness in the workplace and increase business revenue.
  4. Personal opportunities:  As above, time granted by the virus can heal.  Cooking our own healthy meals, focusing on fitness, taking care of home projects formerly on the back burner, or getting to the books we’ve promised ourselves to read .  All of these areas of life are now possibilities that the alibi of “no time” has lost some its vigor.

Daily action is full of practical choices.  A virus has caused the choices to be different ones, but still the choices are ours to make.  These practical choices steer our pursuits of happiness or unhappiness.  A virus has provided the cure to poor choices.

Philosophical changes and the big picture.  The factors that lead to increased happiness are well known.  Examining them under perceived extreme times will create positive pursuits within the bigger picture of our lives.

  1. Relationships—Time and again, studies have proven that personal relationships and especially loving relationships make for happier lives.  Difficult times enhance the personal relationships that matter.  With stay at home orders, the excuses of time or distance are removed as barriers to spending time with loved ones.  The number of hours spent with those that matter to us will increase exponentially for vast numbers of people.  They are going to like it and it will change their lives for the happier.  More time for relationships is time well spent.
  2. Gratitude—When things get tough, human nature often turns to an “at least I’m not him” or a misery loves company response.  The flip side however is what works in creating happier lives.  Rather than wallowing in fear or self-pity, there is now time for actual thought about the positives in our lives.  When we have our health, our family members /loved ones/friends and the stuff we REALLY NEED, thinking about and expressing gratitude for them makes us happier people.  More time for gratitude is time well spent.
  3. Reflection on our purpose—Social distancing is a new term applicable to interacting with others but staying at a safe distance.  Alone time is an old saying but no less a promoter of health.  Many will use some of the extra time they now have to reflect on what’s most important in their lives.  Having a purpose, whether it’s being a great spouse or parent, a caregiver for the needy, a spiritual advisor or a mentor of others unequivocally increases happiness in our lives.  More time for finding and reflecting on our purpose is time well spent.
  4. Wisdom/Faith-seeking—With crises come questions and with questions we seek answers.  When bigs things happen big answers are pursued.  The answers are found in faith when reason doesn’t seem to provide any solace.  People who have faithful beliefs in something bigger are nearly always happier people.  If a crisis results in more people turning to faith and seeking wisdom beyond our conscious minds, only positive long term results are on the horizon.  Time spent in faith is time well spent.
  5. Accept happiness as a moral obligation—When confined with others, the necessity of a happy, or at least pleasant, disposition is underscored.  Be happy, act happily, and it spreads to others.  Being together and reliant on the others closest to us will lead to more understanding that pursuing happiness and being happy in our lives and interactions is a moral obligation.  The Founders understood this and so will we.

The unhappy will embrace a crisis.  They will wallow in lost money, depleted 401(k)’s wasted downtime, and any number of doomsday scenarios only imaginable in the “Book of Eli.”  However, no crisis goes un-dichotomized—the happy will pull through and they will pull others through.  The unhappy will moan and gasp, drowning in the sea of crises until the happy extend an arm to save them.  Nothing changes except the crisis.

A big dose of crisis thinking will cause America to be even better.  The crisis is the vaccine for the happy rather than the infection that kills.  Each individual will learn a bit more about how to rely on self, each family will rely a bit more on each other, and the government will learn a bit more about how it may rely on the people who learn to choose to pursue happiness just as the Founders instructed.


E Pluribus Unum & World Happiness in the Age of Covid 19

Out of many, one.  An instructive motto of America.  On March 20, 2020, the UN released its annual World Happiness Report.  According to an article by CNN, the report lists the “happiest” countries based on various criteria that “support well-being.” https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-happiest-country-wellness-2020/index.html. Those criteria are: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.  Interestingly, note that the criteria support a different end, well-being rather than happiness.  Interchanging words when discussing happiness is a common practice because it is both an amorphous concept and a complicated subject when people seek to define it.  Happy is a big issue and its pursuit is a subject that commands study and reporting.  However, the study and reporting should actually focus on the philosophical aspect of happiness.

The World Happiness Report is no report on happiness and its premises are not the foundational measures of people’s happiness.  Happiness is a state of being in an individual.  A country or a city cannot be “happy” and it follows that one country neither be happier nor more unhappy than another.  Enter E Pluribus Unum.  John Locke spoke of “loveliness” and how several lovely acts in one’s life add up to something greater in one’s being.  So too does the sum of happy pursuits contribute to an end, one’s state of happiness.  A family, a town, a state and a country are merely the sum its parts, aka its people.  It follows that those who are able to pursue happiness, and actually accept the moral responsibility to do so, contribute to a better society.  E pluribus unum.

Throughout history, only one country has placed the pursuit of happiness at the forefront of its creation—The United States of America.  Life is a given.  Liberty is a given (albeit on sliding scale dependent on the country of origin).  The pursuit of happiness is dependent on only one factor, the individual.  America’s Founders called out this unalienable right as a recognition and as an instruction.  Each individual possesses the right to live in a certain way and the moral obligation to live in that certain way.  That way is called the pursuit of happiness.  Simply put, it is a life lived through virtuous personal personal advancement without stepping on the same right of another.  Aristotle spoke of evaluating a life lived based on the sum of happy, virtuous acts at one’s end.  Happiness is state of being, an end in itself, advanced only from within.  An individual’s life is the sum of one’s pursuits.  A country is the sum of its parts.  E pluribus unum.

The World Happiness Report, like the typical unhappy individual, focuses on outside influences such as environmental factors, discrimination, government programs and so on to determine whether a country is happy.  While the study does look at some more individualized factors, its focus primarily on outside influences ignores the most important factors influencing happiness.  Time and again, interpersonal relationships, a true life’s purpose, expression of gratitude and one’s faith play the largest roles in one’s happiness.  In labeling a country, i.e. a collective, as “happy” these foundational  happiness inducers are not considered.  In reality, the study is no happiness study at all, but rather a ranking of the best countries in which to live as decided by those who value certain collective ideas over individual rights.  Pursuers of happiness will choose the individual rights option every time.  Pursuers of happiness will choose America every time.  E pluribus unum.

The real distinction here is between individual responsibility that rises from the right to pursue happiness versus “environmental factors” or the state’s support for collectivized happiness.  The age only philosophical debate of freedom of action versus equality of outcomes is as exposed as ever in the philosophy of happiness.  America is the center of the debate because it is the “happiest country” by virtue of protecting its people’s right to pursue it.  Added up, the happiness is the sum of the parts.  When the huddled masses line up to pour into Finland, Norway and the like, then maybe additional studies will be warranted. For now, the only conclusive happiness study is the one that began in 1776.  E pluribus unum.

Crisis Of Opportunity

The unknown does not a crisis make.  Thoughts create crises.  Despite the belief of people who claim to be smarter than any one of us, people simply do not know everything.  What follows then is that people do not have all of the answers to every perceived problem that arises.  It is thinking that people should, or even could, have all of the answers that transforms the unknown into a crisis.

As a medical malpractice trial attorney who has a passion for happiness, I often think about how these two subjects merge and may be instructive in our lives.  In malpractice cases, doctors and other medical professionals are judged on their decision-making at a given point in time.  Simply put, did they treat the patient correctly under the circumstances?  The process seems clear and simple.  Yet it is not.  Most malpractice cases are filed in court because there was a bad outcome, not because of any wrong decision or actual negligence.  The fact remains that doctors and the medical world do not have all of the answers.  Just ask any doctor for a “guarantee” of a cure or a complete recovery from a surgery.  Or for a more outrageous reaction, ask any trial lawyer to promise a certain jury verdict.  The fact that you will be given no such promises proves that the only guarantee in medicine or jury trials, and in most areas of life, is that there is no certainty of outcome.

There is one certainty of life however.  We have choice.  In uncertain times, when others think crisis, the opportunity is presented to follow suit or choose Frost’s road less traveled.  The less traveled during uncertain times tends to be the road along which gratitude lay and happiness may await.  Walk the path along which you see the abundance of things you have and the life with which you are blessed.  Shun the road of need and scarcity that emphasizes what you shall have not.  Operate not on the road of the hoarder, but take the route of the provider.  Positive thought, personal gratitude and loving action are emphasized exponentially during times when the opposite is the conventional road taken.  

Happy Not Lucky

The Webster’s Dictionary definition of happy is “favored by luck or fortune.”  Really?  Is that what any person thinks of when someone asks, “Are you happy” or “Do you consider yourself a happy person.”  Is the answer, “Oh yeah, I am really lucky.”  At the risk of taking a giant leap here, the answer is no.  Being happy or acquiring happiness is a state of being, it is neither an emotion nor some singular, momentary response to stimuli.  Joy is an emotional response, as are fear or anxiety.  They come and go based on a particular stimulus.  Being happy or happiness is much more broad in scope, a culmination of many thoughts, choices and actions.

Happiness is most certainly not about luck or some amorphous idea of having good fortune.  Happiness is the result of choice exercised through our free will.  Conversely, those who are unhappy people, have chosen to live in that state as well.  Every minute of every day, we make choices.  Each choice may be one small step in pursuit of achieving a state of happiness or just the opposite.  The power of making choices defines us as human beings and places the ability to be happy, or not, in our own laps.  The freedom of choice is what we’ve got.

Strangely, it is freedom from choice that many want.  The band Devo sung about this fact back in the ’80’s in their tune, Freedom of Choice.  Defining “happy” by couching it with luck or good fortune presumes that outside influences out of our own control determine whether we will be happy or unhappy.  In other words, one is not responsible for one’s state of being, whether happy or unhappy, because one’s luck has been awful.  This simple definitional concept illustrates the major divide between people—those who live life by creating their own fortune and those who rely on fortunes created by others—the pursuers of happiness and the unhappy, respectively.

God gave man the right to pursue happiness and the avenue to do so known as free will.  Those who accept that moral responsibility to pursue happiness (or its negative counterpart) through their own choices and their own actions, will likely find their state of happiness.  Those who rely on luck choose to abandon control of their lives and hide from responsibility for themselves.


Bottom or Top Shelf?

Are you living a top or bottom shelf life?  The best wine or booze is usually on the top shelf and so are the best carnival prizes, unless they are so huge they stand alone.  You probably have some pretty good childhood memories at the carnival or fair.  Most of us have those memories so a genius created grown-up carnivals called “Dave & Busters” where adults (or at least they look like adults) go to let the kids run wild while they drink beer and play carnival games.  The smells may not be quite as good without the elephant ears and candy apples, but you know the drill.

The carnival brings a special gleam to the eyes.  The sights, sounds and general atmosphere emit high level energy and create joyous, lasting memories.  A life well lived should replicate the carnival.  Recall the endless rows of games, collecting tickets and the unbridled determination to accumulate the longest strand possible to get that coveted top-shelf prize.  The actual worth of the item could not have mattered less.  The value of the conquest was the only reason for the pursuit.  The day at the carnival was a metaphor for life.  Enjoy the sights, the sounds, the energy of the moment and the people with whom you share the experiences.  Give your best each day and persevere through each small task until your ticket strip measures up.

In short, take the steps to live a top shelf life.

Keep Your Loved Ones & Friends Happier

We have all heard the phrase, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” especially Godfather trilogy fans.  There may be contexts in which that practice is justified, but it’s really a stupid concept.  Instead, show the highest level of gratitude for those closest to you and take action to make them happier each day.

A major life principle is that happiness is a moral imperative.  What does that mean?  It means that every person has a moral responsibility, first to him or herself, then to everyone else to pursue happiness and to “act” happily.  That’s the Founding principle of America.  Almost reflexively, we undeniably practice this virtue every single day without even thinking about it.  We may have truly pleasant conversations in line at the grocery checkout, small talk with co-workers, a telephone conversation with the receptionist at the dental office and so on.  In short, most of us are publicly nice people to those in close proximity.  Now take a few seconds to think about this familiar picture.  You have a disagreement with your significant other with some raised voices or accusatory comments.  Then, a cellphone rings.  Your beloved answers the call, then warmly erupts into “Oh, hi.  How are you doing?  I am soooo glad you called.”  What a major and immediate change!  Acting happy is easy.  We just have to want to do it.

There is a bigger lesson in the example however—the dichotomy of our actions.  Too often we gush with happiness to acquaintances or even strangers, but constantly unload our aches & pains, troubles, traffic issues and petty annoyances on those closest to us.  The path to happiness starts from within and expands outward.  By this  pathway, happiness exuding outward should logically first impact those closest to us and then reach others as it spreads.  Both are moral and both are good.  But, one is far better and we must acknowledge its importance.  “Fake it ’til you make it” may be the appropriate phrase when dealing with strangers.  Keeping those closest to us happy is a far better theme for life.


Maturing Into Unhappiness

Newborns and young children are experts at seeking their own happiness and it is a beautiful thing.  Later though, changes are thrust upon kids during the formative “middle school years.”  Culturally, there are the bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, or other celebrations that act as an artificial gateway to adulthood.  Presumably, the recognition of this period in a child’s life marks a transition to self-direction.  A thinking person would then presume that there would be some focus on positive pursuits, perhaps even happiness.  Instead, there is a push for kids to become little adults and start acting that way.  Success in school is a kid’s job.  Add in spending all free time perfecting sport or piano and doing stacks of homework to fill the days, evenings and the weekends.  These daily activities consume the lives of these smaller grown-ups.  The irony is that adults who moan about the “daily grind” begin pushing the same grind on kids in their formative years.  Pursuing the grind so early creates bitterness toward life, and the more that is piled on in a negative way, the more likely the pursuit will be toward anything but happiness.  Adolescents are not small adults, but they are morphed into that image and mindset.  

There is more thrown at these young learners during the transitional years.  Along with the pressures to begin a path to “success,” comes the first major introduction to groupthink.  Cliques form in school with the in-crowd versus the “nerds” or the greasers/burnouts, the potheads, skate-boarders or whatever labels have been applied throughout the different eras.  The cliques that form this early in life are really made up of the happy and the unhappy.  Just consider for a moment the behavior of the teens involved.  Certain students participate in major activities, go to the parties/dances, join social or educational clubs, play sports, etc.  The others loiter around the hallways or school yard, maybe in neighborhoods, isolate themselves playing video games or in the tech world, or even roam the streets.  Such others may complain about how they “will never be noticed by (or date) a cool guy,” speak of how “the prom queen ignores me” or “I am too dumb to debate or go to the good college,” or whatever the learned alibi of the day may be.  We have heard ‘em all in our own lives, we’ve seen the television shows and movies depicting these well established collectives, and we’ve read the novels endlessly telling stories of the awkwardness of adolescents.  These people are never taught that America is about the pursuit of happiness; they are corralled into groups that foster bitterness and “only-ifs.”

The almost unbelievable fact is that adults continue this learned unhappy behavior throughout their lives.  It is impressed in their minds so firmly that it takes hold like an addiction.  On a recent season of the reality series, Survivor, the whole show was premised on the concept of two groups, the “Davids” versus the “Goliaths,” opposing each other.  The groups assumed not only the names, but also the actual roles.  These independent adults continued their “unaccepted by the cool kids” mantra as if they had traveled back in time.  It’s astounding how this learned failure to pursue happiness can be accepted by so many people over years or even decades of life.  The use of the formative years to instill ideas of groupthink and tyranny of the outcast truly is tragic.  But in no uncertain terms, these years transform an early life defined by the pursuit of happiness into a perceived grind that not only defies such pursuits, but provides excuses and alibis to those who fail to put to use the gift that the Creator gave us.  The serious, responsible (and unhappy) adults teach impressionable minds how to be equally serious, responsible, and as unhappy.  


The Happiness Paradox

A recurrent theme in America is that there is great division and we are bordering on “chaos” or destruction by civil war.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In reality, the only real division between people is the happy versus the unhappy.  The happy pursue their happiness by choice.  The unhappy choose not to pursue it themselves.  Instead, they seek to change circumstances, or the world, to make others happy.

Enter the paradox of happiness.  The unhappy tend to blame outside forces for their problems.  Today’s cause may be a tyrannical boss, yesterday’s may be dysfunctional parents and tomorrow’s may be the misfortune of growing older.  In blaming extraneous causes, the unhappy too often seek to take on the “cause” to prevent others from suffering similar misfortune.  Thomas Sowell said, “There has never been a shortage of people eager to draw up the blueprints for running other people’s lives.”  In other words, they try to secure happiness for others.  As if practicing a religion, the unhappy fight many “isms” or advocate causes for similarly-situated, unfortunate souls.  The causes are often angry, the help is usually unwanted and the results most often are failures.  They fail others because they’ve already failed themselves.

Happy people champion themselves.  Pursuers of happiness decide of their own volition to take action to be happy people.  They pay little heed to extraneous circumstances and accept responsibility for their own lives.  In so doing, these quiet, content, and happy people spread their rays of sunshine over others.  The circumstances seem obvious.  Most people prefer to interact with the happy and avoid the unhappy.  Happy people make the moment, the day and our lives better.  Those who try to force happiness on others, instead spread divisiveness and unhappiness among those around them.  Those who choose to ACT and pursue happiness in their own lives tend to spread to those around them and hopefully far wider.  Thus the paradox—the happy spread happiness through happy choices they’ve made for themselves.  The unhappy fail to spread happiness despite the perceived happy choices they’ve made for others.  Happiness begins with self and ends with others.  Unhappiness begins with self and infectiously remains with self until a choice is made to champion self.

The American Experiment?

How many times have you heard about “The American Experiment?”  The phrase is used as if America is merely another test case for humankind.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Rather, America is the result of centuries of experimentation.  An experiment starts with a hypothesis, it is tested over and over, and a theory is developed based on the results. 

For centuries, man has hypothesized on the concepts of individual liberty, collectivism, the role of the state, and man’s place in the world.  These ideas were discussed in the Old Testament, in the orations and writings of Socrates, Plato, Locke and Marx, and by countless others. Indeed, these ideas are still discussed the world over today.  Based on the hypotheses over the ages, societies have come and gone because experiments have failed.  Others have continued on, but have floundered in less than desirable conditions; these societies remain as examples of failure.  

America is no experiment.  It is the end product of man’s wisdom gleaned from failed experiments of the ages.  The creation of America began with the simple thought that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights of all.  That thought was not new in 1776.  What was new was much more important—ACTION.  Those who thought of life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue individual happiness put into active motion a plan to create the one and only place that finally promised to protect those rights.

The tested formula is a simple one that and is no secret for success:  


Since America was created, it has been tested more than any nation of the past.  The results prove its mettle.  America continues to be the place of which more people dream than any other.  They do not dream about a theory or seek to view the data.  They dream of the time-tested and proven individual freedom to pursue happiness.