Turn the other cheek!

As a Jew I don’t believe in Christ’s divinity; however, I certainly believe in his wisdom.

Perhaps the wisest of Christ’s counsel: Turn the Other Cheek.  Matthew 5:39.  It’s a lesson many family law litigants, most of whom proclaim themselves to be Christians, would be wise to keep in mind.

In my years of family law practice, I have developed a tremendous admiration for the power of this advice to end interminable conflicts.  Turning the other cheek is a wise course no matter how the other party reacts.

Sometimes the other party will respond to the cheek-turning by stepping back, reflecting, and seeking a way to end the conflict.  This is obviously the ideal.  Short of outright victory or defeat, few conflicts resolve without one party or the other taking the step of making peace.  Turning the other cheek is often the necessary step on this path.

However, there are certainly times when the other party responds to turning the other cheek by continuing the figurative slapping.  Here the benefits of continuing to turn the other cheek are subtle but no less valid.  First, most family court litigants want dignity and equipoise as much as they want victory.  Taking the moral high road by turning the other cheek and disengaging from the continued conflict allows one this dignity and peace even if it doesn’t resolve the conflict.

The second benefit is strategic.  Observe two people fighting and it’s hard to determine which one was the instigator or whose behavior is worse.  All that outsiders observe is two people fighting.  It’s no different for family court judges: let them see two people taking turns attacking the other and all they see is two people fighting.  It’s hard for a judge to know whether and how to intervene in such disputes.

But by turning the other cheek, one turns a fight into an unprovoked attack.  Outsiders, such as the family court judge, no long see two people fighting: they see one party attacking the other.  It’s much easier to know whether and how to intervene in such situations and it’s human nature to come to the aid of the party being attacked.  By continuously turning the other cheek one greatly increases the chance that the family court will come to one’s aid rather than throwing up its proverbial hands and saying “a pox on both your houses.”

When given the counsel to turn the other cheek, my clients often complain that they have already done so and then challenge me as to how many times they should be expected to do so in the face of the opposing party’s intransigence.   Jesus provides the answer to that demand too.  In Matthew 18:21 Peter asks Jesus “how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me.” Jesus answers, “seven times seventy.”  Matthew 18:22.

Given the math skills of ancient Israelites–I assume few of his listeners could count to 490–I interpret this answer as meaning there is no reason to stop turning the other cheek.  This is wise counsel throughout life but especially in family court.

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