How travel introduces us to historical figures

Convent of St. Agnes (all photos: DY)

When it comes to being a tourist, I am the opposite of those who manage to squeeze every bit of sightseeing out of each day. In fact, if I can connect with one or two memorable places during a given visit to a popular travel destination, I’m pretty happy with that. I’m especially pleased when I’m able to learn more about special historical figures. For my just-concluded visit to Prague for the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, my nomination for most meaningful tourist stop is the Convent of St. Agnes, which I visited during my last day in the city. The main reason is the convent’s namesake, Saint Agnes of Bohemia, who lived during the 13th century.

The daughter of a king, Agnes grew up with considerable advantages, including a formal education rarely extended to other girls. Among the social expectations imposed upon her was that she would be promised in marriage very early in life, presumably to a suitor who would help to buttress her father’s political and diplomatic stature. Agnes was indeed engaged at the age of three(!), but her intended husband died. Future attempted marriage arrangements also did not transpire, apparently to Agnes’s satisfaction. She had other things in mind for her life.

After Agnes’s father died, her brother was next in succession to the throne. He would grant her wish to never marry, enabling her to devote her life to faith and service to others. The informational flyer that I picked up at the convent shop calls Agnes “an exceptional figure both spiritually and culturally; the first emancipated woman in Bohemia, she not only helped the sick and the poor, but also contributed greatly to the welfare of the Czech people.” Among other things, she started Prague’s first hospital, which also served as a place of shelter and sustenance for the city’s poor. She also continually supported improvements in women’s social status and is considered one of the most significant women in Czech history.

By contemporary standards, it might sound odd to call St. Agnes a pioneer for women, much less an early version of a feminist. But within the confines of the age and circumstances she lived in, those labels could well apply. She sacrificed considerable privilege — an act still in rare supply today — in order to care for others and to advance the status of women, during a time when notions of social services were scarcely developed and men overwhelmingly dominated society.

The sponsor of these biennial law and mental health conferences, the International Academy on Law and Mental Health, has a knack for selecting compelling sites for our gatherings. In keeping with the theme of this post, the last two Congresses have allowed me to visit the Anne Frank House (Amsterdam, 2013) and the Sigmund Freud residence and museum (Vienna, 2015). There is something about walking the same streets and being in the same rooms as these very special historical figures that sends a good chill up my spine. I am very fortunate for these opportunities to make such connections over time.

Launched in Prague: The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

With Prof. Shelley Kierstead, vice-chair, and a beta version of our forthcoming website

I’m delighted to announce the founding of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, a new, non-profit, membership-based learned association devoted to advancing therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. Our opening event was a founding meeting on Tuesday at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, held in Prague, Czech Republic. Several dozen people from around the world filled a meeting room to discuss plans for this new organization, and the combined energies created a palpable sense of enthusiasm and engagement.

From the latest draft of our by-laws, here is what the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (aka TJ Society) is about:

Therapeutic jurisprudence…is an interdisciplinary school of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

Prof. David Wexler, TJ co-founder

For several decades, the field of therapeutic jurisprudence has existed as an expanding but somewhat informal global network of law professors, judges, lawyers, psychologists and other social scientists, and law and graduate students. These efforts have manifested themselves in a growing body of research and practice, as captured in a Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog, a searchable online bibliography of TJ-related scholarship, a new TJ scholarship journal, and a social media presence on Facebook.

However, it became clear that we needed to create a point of affiliation and organization for those interested in TJ. Tuesday’s launch meeting in Prague was a public fruition of that sentiment. Among other things, we discussed the foundational work for this organization, outlined plans for the near future, and held an open discussion to develop more ideas and identify interested participants. We also honored two colleagues, law professors Amy Campbell (U. Memphis) and Kathy Cerminara (Nova Southeastern U., Florida), with the first Wexler/Winick Distinguished Service Awards, our way of thanking them for their selfless service to the TJ community. The award is named for TJ co-founders David Wexler and the late Bruce Winick.

With Profs. Amy Campbell and Kathy Cerminara, award winners

I am serving as the TJ Society’s first board chairperson, and in that role I am facilitating the organization’s early work and providing leadership for our board of trustees. Joining me as officers are vice chair Shelley Kierstead, a law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, and director Heather Ellis Cucolo, a New York attorney specializing in mental disability law. I hasten to add that all members of our board are rolling up their sleeves to help this new organization get off the ground. It is a really good and accomplished group of people, and we enjoy each other’s company and support. Here is the founding board:

  • Astrid Birgden, forensic psychologist, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, law professor, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, law professor, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo, attorney, USA (board director)
  • Martine Evans, law and criminology professor, France
  • Michael Jones, law professor and judge (ret.), USA
  • Shelley Kierstead, law professor, Canada (board vice chairperson)
  • Michael Perlin, law professor, USA
  • Pauline Spencer, magistrate judge, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, law professor, Australia
  • David Wexler, law professor, USA
  • Michel Vols, law professor, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada, law professor, USA (board chairperson).

In addition, these four distinguished individuals will be serving as permanent Honorary Presidents of the TJ Society, in recognition of their signature, core contributions to this field:

  • Peggy Hora, California state court judge (ret.) and international authority on creating solution-based courts
  • Michael Perlin, professor emeritus at the New York Law School and leading mental health & disability law expert
  • David Wexler, law professor at the University of Puerto Rico & the University of Arizona and co-founder of the TJ movement
  • The late Bruce Winick, University of Miami law professor and co-founder of the TJ movement.

We are also assembling a large and distinguished Global Advisory Council, currently with some 75 members, whose names and affiliations will be shared on our forthcoming website.

Faculty of Law building, Charles University, Prague, host for the International Congress

We have a lot of work to do this summer and early fall in order to (1) go public with the website; and (2) begin accepting memberships. We are building a website that will incorporate and link many existing TJ activities and projects, as well as add other research materials, information, and networking features. Interested individuals will be able to join the TJ Society through the website, with membership dues set at $25 US per year, except for students who may become members for free.

That work is already underway. We followed our Tuesday launch with an impromptu meeting of several board members this morning. We realize that starting up a new global organization primarily by e-mail communications and social media requires us to make the best use of our face-to-face time. We’ll be taking various work assignments with us to our various home locations. In the meantime, we’ll also spend a bit more time enjoying the sights of this beautiful old European city.

Old Town, Prague, is quite the sight

Prague: A week of learning about law and mental health

Postcard views everywhere in Prague. Here, Old Town Square.

I’m spending a week in Prague, Czech Republic, for the 35th International Congress on Law and Mental Health, sponsored and organized by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH). Among other things, today I facilitated a session to launch the formation of the new International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (more on that in my next post), and tomorrow I’m presenting a short paper on workplace bullying, mobbing, and incivility in academe as part of a panel discussion on higher education.

The IALMH’s biennial Congress is a global event, with presenters and attendees from around the world participating in dozens of panel discussions running each day for a full week. Law professors, lawyers, and judges join psychologists, psychiatrists, and those from other professional and academic disciplines to discuss important issues of law and mental health. This has become an extraordinary educational conference experience for me, full of ideas, research, and insights that fuel my understanding of the linkages between law and psychology. It also has served as a welcomed venue to share some of my work with valued colleague.

Our host institution is Charles University in Prague, one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished universities. This year’s Congress opened on Sunday with a ceremony in the Great Hall of Carolinum, a significant building in the nation’s history that dates back to the 14th century. One of my therapeutic jurisprudence colleagues, Australian magistrate judge Pauline Spencer, received a major award at this ceremony, and I’ll have more to say about her work very soon.

Great Hall of Carolinum, Charles University, Prague

Believe it or not, a lot of learning occurs at this conference. Each conference day includes four 2-hour blocks of panel discussions. Most of us attend at least 2 or 3 per day, in addition to doing our own presentations and attending assorted meetings. To help reduce the temptation to lapse into truancy, the IALMH builds into the schedule several cultural and sightseeing events. This evening’s entertainment was a lovely concert by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

One of the most validating aspects of this gathering is the widely shared understanding that human emotions should matter a lot in the making and administration of law and public policy. We’re not all nodding our heads in agreement on everything said here, but at least we start with a consensus that psychology and mental health should play prime roles in shaping our laws and legal systems. Our challenge is to persuade more of our peers in the legal profession and in policymaking positions to see things similarly.

Awaiting the orchestra in the Rudolfinum, Prague

The daily commute as an element of job satisfaction (or lack thereof)

Do you factor in a daily commuting experience as part of your overall job satisfaction? If you don’t, then maybe you should.

Shana Lebowitz writes for Business Insider on “how most of us underestimate just how miserable commuting can make us.” She cites research published in the Harvard Business Review:

That’s according to a team of researchers writing in The Harvard Business Review. They cite multiple studies that suggest commuting can be more stressful than actually working, and that the longer your commute, the less satisfied you may be with your job and with life in general.

Her conclusion? “Reduce your commute. As in, move closer to your office or find a job closer to your home.”

Urban commuter here

My commuting-to-work experiences have been exclusively by city subways. (I haven’t owned a car since 1982!) I’m more than willing to exchange suburban home space for the experience of city living.

After graduating from law school, for years I made weekday subway trips from Park Slope, Brooklyn to lower Manhattan. My love affair with New York was still in full flower, so I dealt with the frustrations, delays, and packed subway cars with (somewhat) stoic patience. The average door-to-door commuting time was 40-50 minutes, but it often felt much longer because of the miserable rush hour experience. When I look back at those years, I’m surprised there weren’t more displays of maniacal acting out by otherwise mature, sensible people!

For the past fourteen years, I’ve been doing subway trips from Jamaica Plain, Boston, to downtown Boston, where my university is located. The average commuting time is about 30-40 minutes, made much easier by the fact that a flexible work schedule allows me to largely avoid rush hour traveling. The biggest difference between this and my NYC subway experience is that I can usually get a seat on the train, which for me translates into opportunities to read a book, magazine, or newspaper.

Economic class impacts

However, I’m also cognizant of the fact that I’ve had some choices in this regard. In Greater Boston, for example, housing costs have driven more and more people into outer ring suburbs and beyond. Their lengthier commutes are often imposed upon them. Similar patterns are evident in other popular metro areas as well.

Of course, others choose to live in suburban areas, even if it means a longer work commute. Personally, I can’t understand the appeal of suburban living, but many of my friends feel completely the opposite way! In any event, smoother commutes — whether by car or by train — would be good for everyone. If we use this research data to inform how we can improve the quality of lives overall, then we should invest in transportation systems that ease commuting experiences to and from urban centers.

Spring break in Boston

Back Bay neighborhood, Boston

At my university we’re observing that annual academic ritual known as spring break, but Mother Nature has decided not to cooperate with the “spring” part here in Boston and along the east coast. We’re experiencing a major winter storm, and the snow is coming down heavy and wet as I write. It looks like we’ll be dealing with quite an accumulation before it’s over.

I had planned to go into my office today to get some work done, but I’ve decided it will be just as easy to work on stuff at home. Today’s (and perhaps tomorrow’s) tasks are to write a foreword for a colleague’s forthcoming book and a project report. While I might have fewer distractions in the office, I like the idea of being hunkered down at home as the snow continues to fall.

Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Boston

With no classes this week because of the break, I don’t have to worry about rescheduling snowed-out class sessions. Instead, I can once again appreciate the convenience and flexibility of being able to work from virtually any location where I can turn on my computer and access the Internet.

I count myself especially fortunate to be back home today, as this appeared to be a questionable proposition during a weekend visit with friends in northern Virginia, right outside of Washington D.C. As the winter storm forecast became more dire, my prospects for flying out of Dulles airport last night started to look a tad iffy. As luck would have it, I was on one of the last flights to land at Boston’s Logan airport, per the JetBlue arrivals board below.

Monday night JetBlue arrivals board, Logan Airport, Boston

“First World” ethics of the Amtrak Quiet Car

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Dear readers, here’s a little “First World” ethical topic for you: Personal behavior while riding in the Amtrak Quiet Car. The Quiet Car has become an interesting laboratory for observing (1) whether seemingly advantaged adults will obey the simplest of rules and (2) what happens when those rules are broken.

The Quiet Car is designated for passengers who want a quiet, library-like atmosphere, with minimal conversations limited to whispers, no cell phone usage, and no loud gadgets or music. At the beginning of the trip, and at each major boarding stop, Amtrak conductors announce this information over the public address system. It can be hilarious to hear the slightly sarcastic inflections in their voices when they give this spiel, reflecting obvious weariness over mediating disputes between passengers who have, shall we say, different understandings of Quiet Car etiquette.

You see, on any given trip, at least a couple of passengers will behave as if the Quiet Car exists to provide them with a quiet place to conduct their cellphone calls or to chat with a traveling companion. Lest anyone assume that the transgressors are over-gadgeted Millennials, let me clarify: In my years of observation, middle-aged adults in business attire are the more likely culprits.

Several weeks ago I was riding in the Quiet Car on a trip from Boston to New York. For the first 20 minutes, a well-dressed couple who appeared to be in their 50s kept up a loud, ongoing conversation in the row right behind me. I could hear them easily even as I listened to music using earbuds. I finally turned around and asked if they could keep it down. While I think that I was fairly restrained, they nevertheless looked at me with annoyance. They didn’t stop their conversation, but they managed to lower it to a whisper.

Over the years I’ve wondered about the people who so breezily ignore these clearly articulated rules of courtesy. True, the violations are minor or trivial in the grand scheme of things. But are the loud ones in the Quiet Car more likely to break the rules (quietly, of course) in business and public life? Do these same folks believe that they’re “special” when it comes to applying more significant ethical and legal standards?

Class, please discuss.

Road tripping

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I understand if readers are wondering if I’ve turned this blog into a travelogue of sorts! Two weeks ago, I explained that I was spending several weeks as a visiting scholar at Valparaiso University in Indiana, my undergraduate alma mater. The main purpose of my visit was to work on a book project on workplace bullying and mobbing, and I’m happy to report that it was a productive time. I also got to catch up with friends and family in northwest Indiana. Overall it was a great visit.

On Thursday, I hop on a plane once more for a therapeutic jurisprudence workshop at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. There I’ll be joining a group of law professors and lawyers to discuss how we can create laws and legal systems that are more invested in psychological health and well-being. We’ll be sharing, among other things, ongoing plans to launch an international non-profit organization dedicated to mainstreaming a therapeutic jurisprudence perspective in our legal institutions.

All of which is leaving me a bit short on posting longer commentaries here, but suffice it to say that the work grabbing my attention is all good stuff. 

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