Law professors Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder have just published a valuable guide for lawyers of any age. Before you read on, I invite you to take a most interesting little quiz (derived from the findings in this book) which appeared in the ABA Journal. How important is money to lawyers’ happiness? Do the most satisfied lawyers come from the “top tier” law school? (Speaking of which, check out the recent New York Times story about the competition among law schools to get those coveted -and misleading-U.S News ratings.) Lawyers’ ability to be happy is challenged on many fronts. The assaults on well-being by the competitive law school environment; lawyers’ natural penchant for pessimistic thinking as described by Martin Seliman, Ph.D, the “Father of Positive Psychology”; the demands on a person’s time that are driven by the need to earn the funds to cover a six-figure student loan and the general lack of civility in legal culture and some of the most notable examples. Keeping a handle on personal relationships is so critical for personal well-being – as is the commitment not to lose connection with one’s own particular life passions. Achieving balance between professional and personal needs is ranked by lawyers of the millennial generation as their highest value. Levit and Linder provide a wonderful array of tips and wisdom for high achieving lawyers who feel their lives slipping through their fingers.
I’ve got to admit, I think about Pompeii from time to time. When Vesuvius buried that Roman city nearly 2000 years ago in ash, the inhabitants were frozen in time. They exist today as human forms only – their personal histories, their essence, erased. Forms only. Who were these individuals? None were “famous.” Their names do not pass down the generations. But in their time, as they breathed and gazed on sunlight, they touched others with simple acts of kindness by the boatload. There must have been the teacher who encouraged a child and transformed his view of himself…and the wife who cared for an ill husband whose life faded -before a mountain erupted to bury her as well. No doubt those of light spirit brought smiles and laughter to others who were otherwise burdened by their own cares – daily worry must have been as much a part of First Century Roman life as it is in ours. Those of gentle heart or fierce passion touched their fellows and raised their spirits. Gifts were given out of the blue; visits were made to the grieving to lighten the weight of their loss; countless acts of simple kindness were made without any thought of compensation or return. And in a literal flash, they were all gone. Does that render the love and life-force-energy they shared pointless? We read history to hear stories of the storied. Yet the fabric of life is made up of the millions and millions of normal, loving, caring, giving, simply kind people who came before us and who live among us today. Every day I experience acts of kindness in my own home – simple gestures that no-one but me will ever know about. I do believe that these loving gifts have a power – a grace – that is transcendent. So when my mind wanders to these forms in ash, I invariably think about the blessings of simplicity and kindness all around me every day – and do everything I can to let them fill my heart. May 2011 be a year of kindness we provide, and receive….and recognize.