Law in Contemporary Society
After discussing John Brown’s life and the thoughts of Martha Thauraud, it has become increasingly clear that we need to be more introspective and perceptive. Law students learn to ignore the fact that their quality of life has plummeted and they are spending countless hours and huge sums of money on an intangible and unknown goal. Afraid to break the mold for fear of falling below the curve, we mindlessly follow.

We have the option of taking the route of Mr. Wiley—numbing our minds with substances to keep billable hours up and emotions down. Work is good. Money is good. Comfort and acceptance are paramount. However, we have the other option of learning what we really want to do by developing a purpose and redirecting our enthusiasm toward it for a life of genuine, long-term fulfillment.

John Brown’s purpose, to which he devoted every fiber of his being, was freeing slaves. He had truly made himself the instrument of this purpose, and this trait, to me, is tremendously admirable. It got me to wondering how I could find my own purpose. A purpose to which I could devote myself to whole-heartedly in an attempt to create a career that never had a moment of regret.

Brown stood in stark opposition to the people in power and privilege of his era. Those people had managed to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of slavery and understood it as something normal and acceptable. For this reason, these people weren’t the instrument of a purpose like Brown was. They were more complacent and happy in their comparatively sheltered existences.

As a person within a group that is undoubtedly extremely fortunate and privileged, I’m scared that I have been doing the same. Have I learned to turn away from the injustice that is right in front of me? Will I never find a similar purpose because I’ve neglected to witness and accept the fact that there is suffering everywhere?

The first step in fixing this is to listen to Thauraud and stop being so “dim.” According to her, lawyers spend their time thinking about little more than what puts money in their pockets, and I feel like we are being pushed onto the same track. If we learn to be more perceptive of the nature of our society and introspective regarding what we truly want, I think that it’s possible to find the catalyst that creates a Brown-like purpose and drives a lifetime of enthusiastic work.

But how do we start to brighten up the “dimness?” It may take some time away from schoolbooks and the law school campus, walking through the city and absorbing the sights and sounds. It may take some meditating upon what issues in the world you truly find bothersome, but you’ve simply neglected to address. I really don’t think that it requires that we all become entrepreneurs. Could the move to a more fulfilling career be the organic result of opening our eyes?

-- AustenBrandford - 29 Mar 2012

As law students plow across Amsterdam Avenue with self-inflated purpose, plugged into their iPods and the virtual world on their iPhones, while focusing on cleaning up their outline or resolving irrelevant wrinkles in the law, what is sacrificed is awareness of the built and natural environments that esconces us. Professor John Stilgoe writes that underneath the seemingly mundane facade in our organic and inorganic landscapes lies a complex, challenging, and interesting world. But this requires deep analysis of details, like the particular shape of a leaf, or an unusual brick in a four story building side, the sounds one encounters walking across campus, or truly looking at the people that pass by you and asking "who is this person and what is their story?" The authentic observation of one's surroundings demands one's full attention--which cannot be given when distracted by music, worthless concerns, and walking past our surrounding community instead of walking through it.

With regard to paying attention to what surrounds us, often in law school--what I find unnerving--is how out of touch law students can be with social spheres, constructed and natural spaces, and socio-economic disparities that even surround them every day here in Harlem and Morningside Heights. I think as we're jacked into distractions and self-created neuroticism, what we lose is an appreciation of the real world. People talk about the stress of law school, but the majority of our classmates have never experienced the stress of survival on a daily basis once in their lives. How do you compare the stress of being behind on your outline or your reading, with the stress of feeding five kids, being behind on your rent and facing homelessness, with three jobs? How do you justify a panic attack about getting a B in Crim Law, with a panic attack because your children are hungry and illiterate and there's nothing you can do about it, or your T-cell count will drop even lower because you can't afford to pay for your HIV medication anymore?

A person even a block away from the law school--which may be down the figurative and literal stairs to Harlem for you--face these stresses everyday. Perhaps it is worth considering this the next time you find yourself in a panic in our multi-million dollar library at 11am, as you sip your latte, while you learn for the sake of learning.

-- AjGarcia - 29 Mar 2012

Austen, I think if you had to boil it down to a few words, then yes I would agree that all it takes to move in the right direction is to open your eyes to humanity. Based on our discussion about Bartleby, if we do a meaningful reflection of what we wanted and, as AJ points out, recognize that this institution has jaded our perception about what it really means to be stress and what it really means to feel pressure, then we’d see that there is no shortage of Bartleby-like ghosts right outside of JG. The path toward finding our purpose takes a different shape for everyone, but I think the first step is by starting to ask the right questions – about other people, about yourself, about relationships between people. I’m realizing now that I’m just starting to do that and getting really uncomfortable with how much I don’t know about myself. It’s an interesting revelation for me in particular because I actually felt oddly prepared for EIP before this class. In other words, I wasn’t fearful at all about doing interviews. Most the part, I actually feel really comfortable during interviews. (And just to confirm that I really don’t have too big of a head, I am terribly shy when I have speak up in big groups or in class). I thought I mostly performed well in interviews because I knew myself and what I wanted. I made sure that before heading into an interview that I could anticipate any question an interviewer had about me. But the reality is, is that I know myself exceptionally well…on paper. You can shoot anything at me as long as it’s something that I was prepared to reveal on paper. I realized quickly this semester that there are a lot of things about myself that I am deathly scared of revealing – all things that you would never see on my resume, of course. I used to feel really proud of how well I could perform under this kind of pressure, but now I see really how much of it was a performance and how much of it was fear.

-- LizzieGomez - 29 Mar 2012

Austen, I really appreciate you starting this thread. Indeed, Thauraud calls for sobriety; she does not accept the state of suspended sensibility which many of us have experienced as we tumble down the law school trajectory. In doing so, she generates what a mentor of mine used to call "productive discomfort". Yes, we are at risk of remaining dim until its too late. No, it is not inevitable. Yes, it will take hard work--personal and professional--to avoid the "thick-headedness" of which Thauraud warns. If we harness this productive discomfort, though, our future may still yet be brighter than it seems right now.

You asked how we begin this process. How do we take the lessons emanating from Lawyerland and apply them? Aj and Lizzie have offered advice that I believe is really helpful. To open our eyes to the circumstances, relationships, communities, and societies in which we participate, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is an important step. I would only add that before being able to look outwardly and actually see, we need to learn to be present in our own minds. By this, I mean that we need to stop thinking ahead to the next task, application, or career and ensure that we are capable of feeling alert.

The late David Foster Wallace offers a helpful story in a speech he gave at Kenyon College: "There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'" In this speech, he discusses how challenging it is to be "present". Wallace posits that many of us go through much of life automatically--on a default setting--and instead we should go through life intentionally and consciously. How? To be present, I think it is important to make some of the lifestyle changes which Eben has suggested (meditation, sleep, etc.). This means making concerted effort to keep our brains from drifting too far into the future and out of the now. Wallace claims that if we are able to be present, alert, aware, conscious and deliberate, we will be able to see, to really see, what is out there and where we can help.

-- TomaLivshiz - 06 April 2012

As an aside, if any of you are interested in learning/practicing meditation, I go to a young adult meditation group in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (very interesting "engaged Buddhist"; see his wikipedia article) that meets at 8:10 pm Fridays at a place near Union Square (Atmananda Yoga studio). You can email me if you're interested in checking it out or have any questions; they have an email list (regrettably their only website currently is a facebook group).

dpm2128 at columbia dot edu.

-- DevinMcDougall - 06 Apr 2012


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r6 - 22 Jan 2013 - 18:10:05 - IanSullivan
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