big law

Winks and Nudges

“Over the past thirty years the federal government has used two primary mechanisms to fuel the winner-take-all economy. It has acted deliberately to insure economic gains for the superrich, and it has deliberately failed to act as a way of blocking needed reforms.” (Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Authentic Hope: It’s the End of the World as We Know it but Soft Landings Are Possible. Full disclosure, Jack is a participant in our upcoming movie.)

I’ve spent a little time in board rooms, closed door meetings, halls of power, that kind of thing, and I’ve noticed a phenomenon. Maybe you have too. A decision is in front of the group, and there’s an opportunity to either take a  tough stand, or kowtow to powers-that-be. Here comes Bill (let’s call him Bill) for the lay-up. “Plenty of good reason not to rock the boat,” he offers. “Wink, nudge.” You see, Bill is a “reasonable person.” He’s not an agitant, he’s an aspirant to the cocktail party. He knows how to speak in the code of power. He’s not one of them, he’s one of them. He looks around to gauge reaction, and the room obligingly winks and nudges together. Easy points scored and order preserved.

Representative Tall Building

“Tall Building”

Contrast this with an attempt to take the harder position, and cue awkward silence.

I mention this because I get the draw and am challenged by it, not to suggest it takes a lot to think you’re the king shit in some room somewhere (it doesn’t). One day, during one of my big-law stints, I caught wind of some prospective legislation which would negatively impact “the firm” and which wasn’t yet common knowledge. Pleased with myself, I called the corner-officiest partner I knew, saying something awfully clever like “I assume our people are on this.” Our people. I mean, sure I was (sort of) doing my job, although it wasn’t my motivation. Nor was it to consider the merits of the policy itself. Again, not my job. Kind of barf, though, right? Anyway, I got the  pat on the head and hop in the step.

Maybe the political capital I earned that day better positioned me to blah blah blah. But I kind of doubt it. Too. Damn. Easy. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t really even like that guy. Especially since I think that guy has something to do with the pickle we’re in.