A story of lost love, courage and American values

 

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TED

Well, we won’t need the book just yet. Sometimes the text gets in the way of thinking about the legal system. But I’m glad you let me know about the situation, Mr. Slater. Thank you.

SLATER

Yeah. Forget it.

TED

Yeah? Isn’t the proper response to “thank you” still “You’re welcome?”

SLATER (looks cocky)

Hey, no problem.

TED

I didn’t say there was a problem, Mr. Slater. I said “Thank you.”

SLATER (uncomfortable)

You’re welcome.

TED

Now, Mr. Slater has been kind enough to start our first analysis of law. You see, all really civilized societies are polite. And that’s good. Because politeness is pleasant for both parties. It’s nice to hear “thank you.” For example, “thank you” means thank you: I recognize you have done me a service and you’ve made my life better and I am sensitive enough to recognize that fact. But we sometimes forget that “you’re welcome” is just as important as “thank you.” “You’re welcome” means, “I intended to help you. You’re worth it. I don’t regret it.” That’s as gracious as the “thank you,” don’t you think, Miss…? (He looks at CAROLYN)

CAROLYN

Carolyn.

TED

Miss…?

CAROLYN

Oh. DuPont. I guess so.

TED

The strange thing is, Miss DuPont, that when people stop saying “you’re welcome” , other people tend to stop saying “thank you.” Yes?

CAROLYN

I… uh… I never thought about it till now.

TED

Well, if we really want to understand law in society, we have to start thinking about why we do the things we do — one, in law, and two, in society. And this is subtle stuff indeed. Here, Miss DuPont, I give you a dollar. It’s a gift.

CAROLYN (takes it, surprised)

Thank you.

Ted just looks at her, then around the room, idly. She’s baffled.

TED

Here’s another dollar, Miss DuPont.

CAROLYN

Thank you.

TED (looks at her)

You’re welcome.

He looks around the class, then back to her.

TED (CONT’D)

Which dollar felt better, Miss DuPont?

CAROLYN (nods, smiles)

I see what you mean. The “you’re welcome” dollar.

As Ted starts to return to the lectern, she holds out the two dollars for him.

TED

No. No. They really are gifts, Miss DuPont.

CAROLYN

Well, thanks!

The class laughs.

TED

Well, you’re welcome!

Class laughs louder.

TED

Now, politeness makes society feel good, but it also prevents violence. When I step on your toe or accidentally hit you in the face with my elbow, “I’m sorry” becomes quite important. Do you see?

Class nods.

TED

All right. So you should not be surprised that a society’s court system is even more polite than the society itself, because the legal system is almost exclusively concerned with preventing violence. Also notice with what formality the attorneys and judges dress. Formality is a helpmate of politeness in society and, even more so, in courts. So a court may be strict or lenient, it may be just or unjust, it may be rational or arbitrary. But it will never be. . .impolite, vulgar. Those are characteristics of a mob mentality. Law is always at war with the vulgar mob. If the law were a dance, it would be the minuet.

STUDENT 2 (not too smart)

The minuet? Like the French kings and queens used to dance? That’s gone. It’s better now. We got democracy.

TED

Democracy. Yes. Mind if I take that?
(takes student 2’s expensive iPod.)
Now, how many vote for us taking this iPod, selling it, and dividing the money among us?

(Students all raise their hands.)

TED

And how many vote no?
(Student 2 ruefully raises his hand).
So democracy without the rule of law can be quite ugly, not like the minuet, humm?

(The class nods yes. Student 2 nods emphatically yes.)

Ted gives him the iPod back.

TED

But, yes, the French kings and queens are gone. And the minuet. It’s gone. “Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves? The mob may sack Versailles; the Trianon may fall, the rats may destroy the white satin favours. But surely the minuet, the minuet, is dancing itself away into the furthest stars…”

The student looks baffled. Other students look at each other. Andria raises her hand.

TED

Yes?

ANDRIA

Who said that? Your quote.

TED

Huh? Oh…Ford… Maddox Ford in his novel, The Good Soldier. Why? It’s a little off the subject, I guess.

ANDRIA

It’s just so.. .beautiful.

A student, KARL, laughs. Andria turns to him, angry.

ANDRIA

Something wrong, Karl?

KARL (Smiling, hands up, good- natured)

No, no, Andria, nothing at all.

Silence in the class; Andria realizes everyone is looking at her.

ANDRIA (to Ted)

Oh,uh…Sorry…

TED

Now, where were we? Besides politeness and formality in law, there is a third element, a physical element that always seems to accompany ceremony of any kind. Think: baptisms, weddings, courts, graduations. Water, fire, candles, gowns…anybody?

KIRK

Symbols! (embarrassed) Oh… uh…

TED (smiles)

Yes, Mr….?

KIRK

Mulvaney. Uh. They’re everywhere in those examples. Symbols.

TED

Ah, good, Mr. Mulvaney. Symbols. By the way, Mr. Mulvaney, a man can wear a hat indoors if: a) he is the Pope or b) he’s drinking in a redneck bar. And since neither situation seems to apply to you right now… (smiles)…

Kirk looks up at his baseball cap, smiles, and takes it off.

TED

Thank you.

KIRK

You’re welcome.

Class laughs.

TED

All right. Lots of symbols in a court room. What’s the most powerful ….

KIRK

The gun. The bailiff’s gun.

TED

The gun is not a symbol there, Mr. Mulvaney. It’s loaded. It is a gun.

KIRK

Oh. Uh… that’s right.

ANDRIA

The robe. The judge’s robe.

KIRK

Hey, he’s not through with me, Andria.

TED

Well, it’s the judge’s robe? Miss…?

ANDRIA

Adams.

TED

Miss Adams.

ANDRIA

Yes. He’s the only one wearing one. It doesn’t have any real purpose, like keeping him warm or anything. And it’s kind of eerie and ancient and even kind of religious, and it’s all black. The most formal color.

TED (surprised at her energy)

Well, Miss Adams, a whole litany of reasons. To which I say, “Amen.”

Andria smiles, satisfied. She looks triumphantly over to Kirk, who’s a little miffed.

TED

All right then. Are symbols secretly important, as we found politeness and formality are secretly important? Let’s look at the judge’s robe. Any reasons for it?

Class is baffled.

KIRK

It’s traditional.

TED

But traditions disappear if they have no present value. What’s the robe’s present value?

ANDRIA

It shows the courtroom who’s in charge.

TED

But the judge could wear a beanie.
(Class laughs)
Or the very nicest tuxedo or formal gown.

KIRK

Those aren’t imposing enough. A black robe is….

ANDRIA

Religious, as I said. Or teaching-related, when teachers were priests probably.

TED

We have, ah, stereo students here
(the class laughs).
So, Miss Adams, you see religion and the state as the twin pillars of society, hiding behind the symbol of the judge’s robe?

ANDRIA

Oh. yes, now, I do. But I didn’t mean….

TED

I didn’t mean it either. We’re just thinking here. Just speculating. So the robe is intimidating.

ANDRIA

Well, yes.

TED

Does it make the judge look fairer to the spectators? Less like an individual and more like the law?

KIRK

Yes, less like… we can’t see his individual tastes. His clothes are covered, just his head shows.

ANDRIA

And the head is identified with reasoning, and he’s not supposed to be emotional.

TED

Okay. It makes him look fairer. Does it make him fairer in fact?

ANDRIA

Oh. Well, no.

KIRK

Yes, it does. I’ll bet, when he puts it on, it reminds him that he’s not Joe Smith. He is the law. He’d act more like he’s supposed to. He’d try to be fair, apply the law and not decide based on his personal likes. Well, maybe. Anyway…. Who knows?

ANDRIA

No. It makes sense. The whole thing makes sense. There’s more there than you think at first.

TED

Well, all right then…. That’s enough for the first day. See you tomorrow. Bring your notebooks. And overnight, consider this question: Why do boxing referees wear bowties? Bye.

 

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