Today is the birthday of Sonia Sotomayor, the newest member to the U.S. Supreme Court and first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. She is fifty-nine years old. In My Beloved World (2013) Sotomayor writes “I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down. People can’t understand someone else’s point of view.” In discussing with Gwen Ifill on the PBS Newshour (Feb 20, 2013) an incident from her adolescence where “people do things without imagining the impact it’s having on the other person” –she is discussing a prank where she saw others, lying about an affair, cause havoc in a home— Sotomayor says, “If you don’t imagine what the person you’re speaking to might be thinking, you can’t anticipate how that person is reacting to you.” [She is discussing mentalization and the capacity for intersubjectivity.] Sotomayor said she seeks to build bridges where other people see chasms. She looks at ways to connect instead of seeing differences, particularly apropos when seeking solutions. [Sotomayor is describing relationality.]
These words call to mind what contemporary psychoanalysts consider. In our profession we do not seek to overpower others with our point of view, our value system, or a singularly envisioned path. Instead, we strive to consider the other’s point of view, holding it in balance or tension with our own. We hope to keep in mind and imagine the impact we are having on the other, as well as to pay attention to the impact of our words in the moment that follows their having been spoken. We are also striving to be mindful of the impact the other’s words have on us.
Just as analysts are, Sotomayor is aware how her judicial duties call upon her to be self reflective about her personal experiences and biases and how these influence her thinking about a case. She tells Ifill, “We have to know those moments when our personal bias is seeping into our decision making.” She adds, “It doesn’t mean that our personal experiences can’t permit us, and don’t permit us, to see arguments that others might miss.” She asks, “…When are we listening with an open mind and when has our mind been closed because of a bias?”— a question therapists might ask themselves every moment as well.