The elephant in the room at the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor's appointment to the US Supreme Court was not her Latin heritage, nor President Obama's desire for a more empathic approach to the law, but the logic of the procedures and processes of the legal system.
Superficially it was a case of Precedent vs. Judicial Activism. But the real question was never canvassed: Whether a test at the heart of a controversial legal case was useful or not?
The case focused on the dumping of a multiple choice test that a bunch of white guys seeking promotion as firefighters to leadership roles were able to pass, but some of their Latino and African-American colleagues could not (or did not score as well).
Some senators argued that Judge Sotomayor allowed personal beliefs to determine the case, and by rejecting the white firefighters appeal, made the law rather than followed the law.
Over the course of the confirmation hearing, it became clear that Sotomayor and her fellow judges relied on precedent, whereas the Supreme Court, who overturned their decision, were in fact the real activists and created a new precedent in a split 5-4 vote.
At the heart of legal thought is a notion of enduring, fundamental rules that are good for all time, and only need to fine tuned from time to time.
But as anyone will tell you, who has a deep connection to the world at large, times are a-changing, and in a great hurry, like it or not. Those untrained in specialized thinking and all its precedents, may be more closely connected to the times than we realize. Something we call common sense.
As many people with good old fashioned common sense will tell you, leadership is all about relationship and serving others' interests as well as your own, and not the ability to pass a written test. Which raises the question: Why was so much US judicial system time and taxpayer's money spent on arguing the pros and cons of the discriminatory aspects of a particular test rather than the validity/usefulness of the test?
So here's some workshop questions to consider:
1. What are the qualities of a great leader?
2. What are the qualities of a person who does not display good leadership?
3. Give examples of all different ways of knowing/thinking and the ways of regarding the world/truth? e.g. accountancy, seeing the world in terms of profits and losses, revenues and expenses...
4. How should great leaders go about solving problems, especially to understand the different ways that people think/know things?
5. Brainstorm a list of questions that leaders should ask in order to serve their people?
6. Give an example from your life where someone made a decision about you but ignored/was unaware of your logic/interests/ways of knowing.
7. Give an example of when you followed the rules or used a specific logic, you skirted around the real problem, because your way of knowing gave you a limited access to understanding the length/breadth/complexity of the issue.
8. Give an example of something you know to be true but you can't give a logical reason why/why not?
9. Explain what you mean by "common sense" and how this might help us understand the ways the rules of society are changing.
10. Brainstorm a list of situations when you might rely on "common sense" to get at the "truth".
11. How do great leaders arrive at new "truths"? Brainstorm ideas for a process e.g. 1..., 2...., 3....