Law in Contemporary Society


-- By ManuelLorenzo - 03 May 2012

What It Is and Why We Need It

As the semester comes to an end, one of the lessons that should be taken away is the importance of courage. Webster's dictionary defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” While this is an adequate technical definition, the true meaning and significance of the word is much deeper. It encompasses an individual’s ability to face his feelings of fear and trepidation; to stare at the obstacles in front of him, realize the daunting task that lies ahead, and proceed anyway. It is a test of what people do when they are forced to make a choice between defending something they know to be right and standing aside because it is the easy thing to do. Courage is most clearly displayed when a person is able to adhere to his core set of ideologies and values at a time when it is most difficult to do so. The degree of one’s courage can differ greatly and take on various forms. The courage of John Brown to carry on his mission to free slaves is different from that of a school child who stands up to a bully, although both should be admired. The most important thing is that we not lose sight of how important it is to have courage not only as lawyers, but as individuals in general. Without it, we risk falling numb to the ills of society and traveling down a path in life that will leave behind no meaningful social impact. In order to prevent this from happening, it is essential that we each have in us a little bit of John Brown, and with him the courage that his actions represent.

John Brown's Courage

While I do not completely agree with the tactics Mr. Brown employed, I do admire his courage and, along with Thoreau, “recognize his magnanimity.” Brown recognized the inherent evils of slavery and did what he believed was right in order to fight against it. He did not use the laws of society to accomplish his goals, nor did he engage in extensive civil discourse to persuade others that his cause was just. He was courageous because he confronted the forces acting against him head on and continued to adhere to his beliefs no matter how fierce the resistance. This is a form of courage in its purest sense. It is a type of courage that most of us will not, and perhaps should not, achieve. Although Brown’s actions were justified against fighting the evils of slavery, they are bit more difficult to employ in contemporary society. There is an inherent conflict between the type of courage Brown displayed and that used by lawyers, because Brown worked outside of the legal system in which lawyers are confined. Nevertheless, we can still use his actions as inspiration. The courage Brown exhibits reflects the broader idea that individuals have the capacity to enact social change when they acknowledge a wrong within society and become determined to fix it. The first step towards this is identifying where it is we find our own courage.

Where We Find It

Before we can realize the true potential of our courage, we must first break the numbness that prevents us from reaching that goal. When Eben posed the question, “If four million people were enslaved in this country today what would you do,” the direction of the conversation almost immediately turned instead to the issue of whether we would actually do anything. This reaction reflects a distance many individuals feel to the problems currently plaguing society. We get so caught up in the issues that directly affect us that we lose sight of the broader plight of those who are less fortunate. It is only once we break out of our comfort zones that can we begin to find the courage necessary to actually fix any of the problems surrounding us. One of the lessons we can take away from John Brown is that we should be strong enough in our convictions and values to know when something is wrong, and brave enough to actually do something to help. Brown found his courage partially through his religion and faith in God. Some people may find theirs in the morals and principles they were taught as children. Others may not even recognize their courage until they are forced to confront something that brings it out. Regardless, it is crucial that individuals discovery the extent of their courage because it is imperative to becoming a valuable lawyer and socially productive human being.

How We Use It

Despite the reputation of lawyers as risk averse individuals, courage is a necessary tool for being an effective attorney. Throughout our lives we will be forced to make choices that test our ability to stick to the moral and ideological values that made us choose this career path in the first place. We will be tempted to use our licenses in ways that go against our beliefs. It is during these times that our courage will be most essential. We must be brave enough to adhere to our values and perform work that we truly feel is worthwhile. We should use the law in a manner that betters society, helping to provide legal services for the clients we choose to help. We should not be afraid to take risks, especially if we know that what we are doing is right. We should not let money be the sole decision maker that guides our career. We must be courageous enough to take a leap into uncharted waters, acknowledging the possibility of failure. While I am not advocating that everyone do as John Brown and take the law into their own hands, I do believe that we need to find the bit of John Brown inside of us and use that courage to help others who have not yet found their own.

This draft seems to me to concentrate too much on superficials (the dictionary definition of courage, for example), and too little on a central idea of your own about courage, whichever one you mean to put forward. Sentences such as "The most important thing is that we not lose sight of how important it is to have courage not only as lawyers, but as individuals in general," are generalized rhetoric, not the close pursuit of an idea. Sentences like "Without [courage], we risk falling numb to the ills of society and traveling down a path in life that will leave behind no meaningful social impact," seem more confusing still: is "courage" a general synonym here for all forms of social consciousness?

Probably the best way forward is to start from a single-sentence formulation of your idea about courage. Free it from rhetoric, don't worry about what it sounds like, just ask yourself what the idea is. Write it simply, at the beginning of an introductory paragraph, and then develop it. Your development makes a new conclusion apparent. The result will surprise you.

(I would like to continue working on this essay during the summer)

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r6 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:03 - IanSullivan
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