A Gang of Seven

 Pointing the Way


 Two Movements

 Three Sacraments

 Facets of Vital Engagement

 Vital Engagement:
            Life Blood of Trust

 Steps Towards Trust

 Missed Steps

 Unseen Options  

 Justice in Relationships


Ernest G. Szoke, JD

Biography                   Touchstones               Defining Moments


 As a boy growing up in a rural Pennsylvania home, solitude and silence were rarities for me. I am the youngest in a family of fourteen children—ten brothers and three sisters—born to immigrant parents. In this environment with nearly total freedom of expression for everyone, dialogue and being heard meant arguing and out-shouting, my voice as youngest having the least force. Confusingly, the freedom of expression inside the family was tempered outside [from what source outside?] by the “Old World” precept that children should be seen and not heard. How could I know that being so clearly defined within and outside the family, simply by my position among siblings, made it unnecessary to define myself otherwise? Yet engaging in public life beyond the confines of my immediate family and friends necessitated finding a different role. For me this meant finding a source of authority and a method for relating. I found this in the practice of law, which gave me an extrinsic authority to replace the comfort and security of a large family. It also afforded me the opportunity to utilize the verbal and, to an even greater extent, vocal skills that came to me simply as part of my family experience.

Only after a long and successful career in law and business utilizing the argumentative skills honed early in family interactions did the notion occur to me that more peaceful forms of verbal exchange can provide satisfying discourse without need for a win/lose outcome. Despite having acquired a fulsome knowledge of law and spending years successfully analyzing, arguing, and negotiating the merits of conflicting positions by relying on the authority of the law, I felt a need for a more fulfilling way to relate to others and for a more interior authority. Fortuitously, I found this through associating with a group of knowledgeable and skilled psychotherapists who helped me realize that being heard and out-shouting are not synonymous; that my voice can have force without volume and that real authority can come from knowing my own ground and being secure in my right to express that ground in speech with meaning. With this new awareness I realized that extrinsic authority is not essential to engaging in dialogue and that pressing to have my side accepted is less rewarding than listening and learning to imagine another’s side while holding fast to my own in genuine dialogue. The transformative understanding came for me in realizing that, by listening with imagination for the context and ground of the other speaker, I can hear and will often be heard in meaningful engagement supported by the trust gained through crediting the other, revealing myself and inviting deeper expression. To me this means the need for authoritative precedent and persuasive speech is no longer vital; freeing me to enter, sustain, and reenter oral engagements that are far more rewarding than compromising, confrontational or conciliatory outcome-driven engagements that I regarded as normal in the ordinary give and take of law and business encounters.