The first step that each of us can take to proactively help heal our country is for each of us to become better listeners. This first step is a simple one but also a very powerful one. It seems like today there is so much noise, so much shouting, so much frustration and anger. We no longer have discussions. We no longer think and contemplate in a deeper way. We all need to make a conscious effort to listen to each other. Listening obviously does not mean agreeing. But listening is the first step in reaching some type of common ground. And there is plenty of common ground to be found.
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy M. Hale.
Andy M. Hale, ESQ, is an Emmy nominated documentary film producer and attorney with over 30 years of experience in civil rights and commercial litigation matters. He and his cofounder, Brian T. Monico, joined forces in 2019 to create Hale & Monico — America’s Justice Attorney’s — where they specialize in civil rights, commercial litigation, personal injury, medical malpractice, and wrongful death cases. Since moving back to his hometown Chicago over twenty years ago, Andy has focused his trial practice on civil right cases. It was in Chicago where he began his career as a filmmaker and producer, shining a light on the issue of wrongful convictions. Andy’s documentary films have been featured on Netflix, Showtime, and Discovery, and his court cases have been prominently featured in publications such as NYTimes, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, and Crain’s Chicago Business.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, the middle child of Bob & Cathy Hale. I have an older sister and a younger sister. I grew up loving sports, as my dad played professional baseball for seven years. My dad attended Lakeview High School in Chicago, graduated, signed a minor league contract, and married my mom. He was 18 and she was 17. They moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas where my dad began his baseball career. Three years later, when my dad was only 21, he was called up to the big leagues as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. The highlight of his career was playing on the 1961 New York Yankees, a team that won the World Series that year and is considered one of the greatest teams of all time. My dad retired from baseball when I was born in 1962. But, my dad’s baseball career would wind up having a big impact on me growing up. I have so many fond memories of my dad taking me to Cubs games at Wrigley Field and White Sox games at the old Comiskey Park. Growing up, I was well aware of how fortunate I was and how there were so many people who didn’t have the comforts or advantages that I enjoyed. I was also aware of the racial prejudices that many people faced. My parents instilled these values in me and my sisters. These values have stuck with me and are a big part of why I wound up seeking to help those who have been wrongfully convicted. I also always had a vivid imagination. I can still clearly remember when I was in third grade how fascinated I was with stars and the solar system. Our family was living in Florida at the time, as my dad was coaching baseball at a college in St. Petersburg, and our family would lay on the front lawn at night and look up at the stars in the sky. It was amazing to think of how far away the stars were and how Earth was just a tiny part of the entire universe. I still have the same curious imagination that I had back then and I think one’s imagination can be a powerful positive influence on one’s life.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Growing up, I did not know any attorneys. No one in my family had gone to law school. Nor had any of my relatives. My Plan A was to be a professional baseball player. But it was clear by the time I got to college that that was not going to be a realistic option! But, again, with my love of sports, especially baseball, I was always a competitive person. I also loved to talk to people and the thought of being a trial lawyer, in court, arguing a case to a jury, presented a lot of appeal to me. So, I decided to go to law school in order to become a trial attorney. My dad would have been an amazing trial lawyer if given the chance to go to law school. He was so smart, funny, and a strong leader and advocate. He would love coming to court to watch my trials.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Currently, I’m focused on helping several clients who are presently incarcerated prove their actual innocence. These cases are very difficult, but also very rewarding. One such client is Chester Weger, who was convicted in 1960 for a triple murder that occurred at the Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois. Chester spent over 60 years in prison before being released on parole last year. I’m currently fighting to prove Chester’s innocence. We are working with a Los Angeles production company and filming a documentary about Chester’s case and the Starved Rock murders. I’m also working on finishing another documentary about another one of my clients, Cleve Heidelberg, Jr. After a two-year battle I was able to vacate Cleve’s conviction and get him released from prison after 47 years. That documentary is called “Wrong Cat” and we hope to have it completed later this year. I’ve really developed a passion for filmmaking and using the power of the media, and documentary films in particular, to shine a light on cases of injustice. This passion for filmmaking began back in 2014 when we made a documentary about Alstory Simon’s wrongful conviction called “A Murder In The Park.” That documentary appeared on Netflix and Showtime and was the catalyst for Alstory’s conviction being vacated and him be released from prison after 16 years. There are a lot of cases of injustice out there but often times no one is aware of them and the person has no voice or advocate. These media projects can be powerful tools to tell these stories and achieve justice.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I think I owe the most to my parents, who supported and encouraged me along the way. They helped me pay for college and law school and without their love and emotional and financial support my career would have never been possible. I’ve always been aware of how lucky I was to have this kind of support and that there are many people out there who don’t have that type of support. That’s why I think it’s important to give back and lend a hand to those who need it. I’ve always tried to support scholarship opportunities for those who need a boost. Many people just need an opportunity to be able to spread their wings.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I think the funniest mistake I ever made (funny in terms of if you were watching as an observer), although it was not very funny at the time to me, was when we were seeking to continue the trial date in one of our biggest cases. The judge was an older grumpy guy and he was known as the meanest judge in that courthouse. After I made my request for the continuance and the judge started to give me a hard time, I dug my heels in and started to argue toe-for-toe with the judge. That did not go well! Luckily, my cool, calm and collected co-counsel was able to save the day by softly explaining to the judge the reasons why a trial continuance was necessary. The judge wound up granting us the continuance we so desperately needed. The lesson I learned is that you typically get more with sugar than spice. I consistently follow this rule and have gotten much better results by talking through a situation, rather than escalating it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I think Karen Salmansohn is great and I love her books “Ballsy” and “Gut.” Her books offer simple but powerful advice in a fun style that’s super easy to read. For example, “Ballsy” touts “99 ways to Grow A Bigger Pair and Score Extreme Business Success.” There are so many great tips in the book but one of my favorite is tip №62: “Never Get Too Cocky. Never Get Too Bummed.” I have found this to be a powerful tip when I’m in the middle of a trial. There will be good days when the witnesses all seem to be giving you the testimony that you want and there will be bad days when your cross-examination seems to be flat and ineffective. I always tell our trial team, “you can never get too high” on the good days and “you can never get too low” on the bad days. A trial will have plenty of both. You need to stay the course and keep your eye on the ball and your ultimate goal. This is helpful in court, but also throughout life and in relationships.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
The quote I always use is “everything in life is an opportunity.” I have used this phrase countless times with my colleagues and my son and daughter. Now, whenever some sort of setback occurs and I start to talk, invariably someone finishes my sentence with “I know, everything in life is an opportunity.” What I mean by this quote is that any type of setback or failure is an opportunity for growth. I so strongly believe this. One example is when one of our attorneys told me she was going to be leaving to pursue other career options. I was so bummed, as she was a great lawyer. But, I soon took the mindset, how can I use this an opportunity of some sort? I had always wanted to add a personal injury/medical malpractice area of practice to our firm. So, rather than replace the departing attorney with someone similar, I decided to explore my goal of adding these new practice areas. That lead to my hiring of Brian Monico, who is an amazing personal injury/medical malpractice attorney and is the “Monico” in “Hale & Monico.” This never would have happened had I not looked at this “setback” as an opportunity for growth.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership can mean many different things but what comes to mind to me is being able to provide people with the comfort and knowledge that you are in control, have a game plan and a vision, and an ability to execute that game plan. Recently one of our attorneys had to drop off a package at my house. He addressed the envelope “To: Our fearless leader.” That struck me at the time. I think I have developed that type of description because people at Hale & Monico know how passionate I am about the work we do. They know I have a vision for how I want to grow the firm and they know I have a game plan for continued success. That type of leadership is what helps you, as a business owner, to attract and keep great people.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
That’s a great question and something we all need to think about. It’s a complicated issue but I think one of the causes is that people have lost the ability to listen. To simply “listen” to another viewpoint. Listening seems to have become equated with agreeing but that’s obviously not the case. If everyone would be more willing to listen to respectful dialogue (with a key emphasis on “respectful”) from others, we may be able to find more areas of common ground. It all starts with listening, rather than simply attacking. By respectful, I mean with an open attitude that although you may ultimately disagree with someone, you respect their opinion and understand that reasonable people can disagree on certain issues. If both parties have that respectful tone and dialogue, it’s much easier to have a meaningful conversation. At the same time, part of the problem has also been that many people are not willing to accept proven facts when discussing issues. In these situations, it’s easy to just throw up your hands and not want to even engage in a conversation with someone. But with patience, the ability to be a better listener, and to also ask respectful non-argumentative questions, we can each start defrosting some of those icy relationships that we may have with friends or family.
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, coworkers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
My biggest experience with this has come from social media. For example, what has happened to me, and many others I know, is that I’ve come across numerous Facebook posts from friends with political content that I do not agree with. Often times the political commentary is very aggressive. What I have tended to do in these situations is to “hide” the posts from these individuals. That means I don’t see their posts, but we remain “friends” on Facebook. But, what this means is that now I have basically lost touch with those individuals. Rather than keeping up on family or work issues, and sharing photos of our day-to-day lives, we now have the connection we previously had and become even more isolated from each other.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
You often hear people say it’s best not to discuss politics. But, I think sometimes the opposite is true. We sometimes need to have these difficult conversations, assuming we can do so in a respectful and professional manner. We need to understand each other better. It’s easy for someone to simply be resentful of a family member that supports a different political party, but if we engage in some meaningful discussion about why we support the party or candidate that we do, we may be surprised by how much we still agree on. And, opinions can change over time. So, having periodic discussions about important issues can potentially lead to change. Now, at the same time, I don’t want to sound naïve. Some people will never change and don’t want to change. That could be the topic of another entire interview!
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
I think the best policy is for the workplace to be a “non-political” zone. Everyone should have the opportunity to work in a friendly and supportive environment where all employees are respected and appreciated. Once politics enters the workplace, people can become resentful of others or feel targeted or unfairly treated. It can also lead to bias in the workplace where people can be treated differently based on their political views.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self identify. But of course there are many other ways to self identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
I think we often confuse political affiliation with a passion for issues. People of different political affiliations might agree that child poverty is a problem or that systemic racism has affected income inequality. These are issues that can be discussed without promoting a political candidate or party. One way we can address this is by speaking on the topic directly, and avoiding the conversation going into descriptions of what the opposite political party has or has not done for that issue. Many individuals make their conversations about what the “other side” has or has not done. Let’s focus on the issue at hand, and see where we agree.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
Well, for starters, it might be best if we all used social media a little less. Take a break from your phone! Instead of enjoying the present moment, people constantly check their phone as if they are missing out on something. My pet peeve is when I see a couple at dinner at a restaurant and they are both checking their phone rather than simply enjoying each other’s company and conversation. We all need to enjoy the present, even if it’s just sitting on a park bench and feeling the sunshine on our face. Also, Social media started out as a way for us to stay in touch with friends and family but it has been corrupted with a constant stream of propaganda that is not based in fact. We all need to understand that social media should not be used as our news source. Also, during the pandemic, with everyone couped up at home, people have spent more time than usual on social media. Thus, social media has had a bigger impact on us all during the pandemic. But, as things continue to improve, we all need to get back to our old way of life by visiting friends and family, sharing meals with those we care about, and spending time on the activities and hobbies we most enjoy.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
Don’t listen to them! We shouldn’t allow media personalities who are paid to drive up ratings decide what we think and feel about critical issues facing our country. They are attempting to influence us, and as long as we realize that, we should take their words as a starting point for our own research into things we care about. We need to use facts to help us form our own opinions and not just parrot some person on television. Everyone should question people or organizations that seem to be encouraging hatred and reinforcing bias. We should also make sure we’re doing our own due diligence as to where we’re getting our news from. Who owns these publications, what else do they own, and who are those sources funding politically? If we remember when we’re getting our news and doing our own research that it’s all aimed at a specific goal, it might deter us from “dying on a hill” for it.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
We need to elect political leaders who are willing to address our biggest challenges, not political leaders who simply want to remain in power. In the old days, there was no much more bipartisanship. Shouldn’t all our political leaders be interested in addressing climate change, poverty, discrimination and economic inequality, to name a few? We passed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act in 1964. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine passing such landmark legislation now. We need political leaders who can effectively communicate and engage with everyone, regardless of blue state or red state, and make the case for powerful change that will benefit us all.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- The first step that each of us can take to proactively help heal our country is for each of us to become better listeners. This first step is a simple one but also a very powerful one. It seems like today there is so much noise, so much shouting, so much frustration and anger. We no longer have discussions. We no longer think and contemplate in a deeper way. We all need to make a conscious effort to listen to each other. Listening obviously does not mean agreeing. But listening is the first step in reaching some type of common ground. And there is plenty of common ground to be found.
- The second step that each of us can take is to show more empathy. Each of us can spend more time thinking and understanding how others may feel and what others may be experiencing. Many people are hurting. That hurt is real. It may be based on being unemployed, not being able to put enough food on the table, feeling like the economy is passing you by, feeling the burden of discrimination, or many other issues. Each of us needs to do a better job of understanding and feeling what others are going through. The more we can collectively show empathy, the more likely it is that we will be able to address the issues that face us as a country.
- Along with becoming a better listener, and showing more empathy towards others, a great third step is to identify an issue that is important to you. This could be global warming, poverty, the minimum wage, job opportunities, discrimination, or anything else you might be passionate about. I’ll give you an example of an issue that is important to me. I’ve become passionate about the gun violence issue in Chicago. This came about through my work on my Case Files Chicago TV show. Each week our show highlighted an unsolved murder case in Chicago. Many of these cases involved innocent victims killed by gunfire and I would meet the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of these victims. I would see the devastation gun violence was wreaking on families and neighborhoods. Had I not met these families, the issue of gun violence simply would not have been on my radar screen. I’m lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where people don’t get shot. Not once have I wondered if my son or daughter would return home after a night out with their friends. That was not the experience of the families I met. So many mothers told me they worried every time their son or daughter left the house. By listening, showing empathy, and developing this personal connection, I have been able to more fully understand the seriousness of the gun violence issue and its impact on so many people.
- Once we have identified an issue that we care about, a good fourth step is do something, to take some concrete action, regardless of how big or small it may be, in support of that issue. As I mentioned, I am passionate about the gun violence issue in Chicago. I have tried to help raise awareness of the gun violence issue in Chicago in a couple of ways. I have collaborated with talented artist Shirien Damra to create a series of tributes to young victims of gun violence. [See H&M website]. I also produced a short documentary film about gun violence in Chicago called “Bullets Have No Names.” [See H&M website]. I was fortunate to have the resources to be able to take these initiatives, but there are plenty of ways to support an issue that don’t require money. You can volunteer one day a week at a soup kitchen, help someone prepare a resume, or send a letter to your local politician advocating for your issue of choice. By being engaged, even in a small way, can help us foster a better connection with others and society as a whole.
- Finally, a wonderful fifth step is to try and develop the habit of telling others how much you appreciate them. Family members are obvious choices, but I would encourage you to do this with people like your mailman, the grocery bagger, or the pizza delivery person. A simple “thank you for what you do” can go a long way to brightening someone’s day. At a time when the United States is so polarized, random acts of kindness can help foster community, and that can continue in far reaching ways throughout the nation.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
I’m a big believer in the power of gratitude. I am constantly quoting my dad who, when asked by someone how he was doing, he would often respond with “I’m great, I woke up today.” He was glad to be alive. He was happy to have the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. This attitude of gratitude creates an inner peace and a kindness. If you are grateful for all that you have, for being alive and enjoying life, you will find yourself automatically being nicer to others. Give it a try!
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
As I said earlier, I’m a big believer in “everything in life is an opportunity.” So, the rough period we are going through right now is an opportunity for healing and growth. Sometimes things have to hit rock bottom before they can start to improve. This rough period is an opportunity to create powerful change that would not have been possible in more moderate times.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
What I would tell young people is that they have power, real power, to make change. This is especially true at the ballot box. Young people often feel like their voice or their vote won’t matter. But the opposite is true. If young people all voted in mass they would completely reshape the political landscape. They would be able to affect real change on crucial issues like climate change, the minimum wage, the cost of a college education and economic opportunities. So, if I had one thing to tell our young people it would be to VOTE.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast (my favorite meal!) with Amanda Gorman. I, like millions of others, watched her recite “The Hill We Climb” and was so amazed with her grace, artistry, courage and inspiration. I posted a video of her performance on my Facebook page with the caption: “This 22 year old just provided this 58 year old with a huge burst of inspiration. Amazing.” I would love to talk to her about her goals and aspirations and what we can do as a country to heal. I’d also love to work together on some type of documentary film project!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can check me out at:
haleandmonico.com (check out my blog and some of the documentaries we’ve created!)
This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
You’re most welcome. Thank you for the well wishes. I’m looking forward to a healthy and happy 2021.