Two Tools to Help You Survive Unpopularity

The right thing is often unpopular since its harder to do.
– Rick Warren

In the movie Bridge of Spies, James Donovan, an American lawyer is recruited to defend a Soviet spy who has been arrested and incarcerated. At the height of the race to be the first country to develop deliverable atomic weapons, only the vilest of persons would help the enemy. Life as we knew it was at stake. The closest charge today would be to be accused of being a terrorist or someone helping a terrorist. The Soviet spy was seen as the most hated man in the United States, he was certainly the most unpopular. Surely the unpopularity of the Soviet spy would rub off on his lawyer. Even so, Donovan represented the Soviet spy and was eventually successful in getting him returned to his homeland.1

Although I have never been involved in anything of that magnitude, the movie did make me think about my unpopular cases – a capital murder defense, parents whose children had been taken away, and a third case which unexpectedly attracted an enormous amount of media coverage that shut my practice down for two weeks. Nothing quite on the level of international espionage but theses cases did have something in common – unpopularity and stress. There were two tools that were pivotally important to the success of those cases.

Have a Clear “Why”
As early in the decision making process as possible, discern why you have chosen to do something unpopular. Donovan said the he decided to represent the Soviet spy because every person in the United States who was charged with a crime is entitled to a legal representation. Once you have a personal why, practice making it internally louder than the external criticism of the crowd.

Also, make sure your why is not in conflict with your own personal moral compass. For example, Donovan did charge the Soviet spy a fee – but he donated the fee – all of it – to universities. Donovan never tells what his motive was for donating the fee. Could it have been that he never wanted to ask himself if the level of criticism and isolation he was receiving was worth it? If he donated the fee then he had already answered that question: for Donovan it wasn’t about the money.

Build a Team
When my daughter was still small, she wanted to test her outdoor skills by spending a week in the wilderness by herself. After establishing some safety guidelines, my wife and I agreed that she could conduct her test in the woods behind our home. After four days, she returned home. Even at her young age, my daughter had the skills she needed to survive. What robbed her of her goal of a full week in the wilderness was aloneness. She could handle all of the difficulties presented by the wilderness. She couldn’t handle being alone.

They may not have wholly agreed with what he was doing, but Donovan discussed what he was doing with his family, law partners and friends. Donovan listened and valued their opinions. In response, they supported him when he needed it.

You may never find yourself in a situation where you decide to take an unpopular stand. If you do, these two tools may help you stay in the wilderness long enough to reach success.

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  1.  ©2015 Brandon L. Blankenship, Image Credit: Every Day Carry Guy Die flickr CC 14APR2011.
About The Author

Brandon Blankenship

Brandon L. Blankenship is a continuing legal education presenter and business educator. He is the author of Unmasking Hour. He writes weekly posts on the legal industry and is a contributor to the Nobility Academy. He and his wife Donnalee live on their hobby farm south of Birmingham, Alabama.