Friday, February 25, 2011

What Can We All Learn From Clarence Thomas?

Photo Credit: U.S. Government
Depending upon your political leanings, the title of this post may either intrigue or repulse you. For many political conservatives, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas serves as an example of a man who has lived out the American Dream.  An African American man who was born before the Civil Rights movement and grew up in the South, Justice Thomas has risen to the heights of the legal profession as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

For many political liberals, though, especially for some in the black community, Thomas is a reminder of a black man who has turned his back on African Americans by stating his opposition to affirmative action programs that many believe he benefited from in order to advance to where he is today.

My purpose of this post is not to comment on my personal feelings on the political persuasions of Justice Thomas, but rather to reflect on the reason that he made the news this past week. It has now been over five years since Clarence Thomas has asked a question of a lawyer that has been presenting a case before the Supreme Court.

Five years! That's a long time. To give some perspective, the Detroit Lions have won a whopping 18 games since the last time Clarence Thomas asked a question in a case before him.  Wait...that's probably not the best example but you catch my drift.

I'm not a lawyer nor do I have much experience with the U.S. justice system (thankfully), but I'm guessing that it might be good for members of the Supreme Court to ask a clarifying question every now and again. But Justice Thomas has not. Not for over five years.

For those that are not supporters of his, this is evidence of his unfitness for the Court. But I do wonder if there is something else going on here that we can all learn from. What are his reasons for his silence, you ask? This is what Thomas has had to say when asked about this:
"I had grown up speaking a kind of dialect," Thomas, who was born in Pin Point, Ga., and raised by his grandparents in nearby Savannah, told a group of students in 2000. Classmates "used to make fun of us. ... I just started developing the habit of listening. ... I didn't ask questions in college or law school. I could learn better just listening."

More recently, Thomas said he thought lawyers should be able to do more of the talking during the hour-long sessions, to better explain their legal positions.

"I think there are far too many questions," he said in a 2009 interview with C-SPAN. "Some members of the court like that interaction. ... I prefer to listen and think it through more quietly."

Referring implicitly to how active his eight colleagues are in their questioning, Thomas said, "I think you should allow people to complete their answers and their thought and to continue their conversation. I find that coherence that you get from a conversation far more helpful than the rapid-fire questions. I don't see how you can learn a whole lot when there are 50 questions in an hour."
Perhaps there is something that we can learn from Clarence Thomas when it comes to listening to others. In fact, it may even be a biblical concept. James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." I wonder how our relationships with others could be transformed if we decided to refrain from providing answers for everyone and listened more to their thoughts? What if we sought the opinions of others more freely and held back from expressing our own?

Perhaps if we talked less and listened more, others would listen more attentively when we did have something to say. I'm sure that if Clarence Thomas ever does ask another question during a case that it will be given its full attention. There are probably some ways that I wouldn't want to emulate Clarence Thomas but becoming a better listener is one way I'd want to follow his example.

1 comment:

Kaye said...

Well stated, Scott.

I was thinking along the same lines - that there is certainly wisdom in the "listening" strategy.