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Legal education, institutional learning and the role of faith

Br. Bob Sylvester | Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Forty years ago this autumn I began law school. Between then and now I graduated, picked up two additional graduate degrees, successfully practiced law, raised a family, owned a nice home, suffered the losses that come with living and joined vowed religious life. On the strength of the nostrum that even blind squirrels find acorns, I offer what I know in retrospect about legal education and institutional learning in general.

First, relying on external rewards will produce neither satisfaction nor happiness. Rather, those who place a primacy on a relationship with God, while accommodating personal growth and caring for others, find both satisfaction and happiness. So avoid the single-minded focus on securing the highest grades and the greatest institutional honors, the best job and highest salary or meeting the expectations of others for they only create anxiety and frustration, impede learning and, ironically, impede becoming a good lawyer.

Satisfaction and happiness in life, learning included, comes more readily to those who do work they enjoy, or work that they find virtuous. Like it or not, a happy and satisfied life requires that one knows who he is uniquely made by God to be, and to follow that divine reality.

Second, forget perfectionism. Disabuse yourself of any notion that you will not make mistakes. Humans err and wisdom comes over time, often as a result of mistake and failure. Hence be patient with others and yourself. Do not assume people will meet your expectations; avoid being judgmental. Cultivate and maintain a faith life and relationship with God, for absent this you will come to depend on your own intelligence and ability, a losing wager as no one plays a fault-free, tragedy-less game of life. In short: Trust God, do not worry, and be forgiving.

Third, be leery of being an objective participant in life and learning. Do not fall victim to thinking like a lawyer. Do not let acquiring the analytical skills required to practice any occupation separate you from a pre-canonical sense of moral order, your values, ideals, instinct, imagination, your conscience, feelings or emotions or, most significantly, from your faith. To do otherwise is to lose contact with your self, to become a lost soul, to participate in your own de-humanization.

The point is this: Do not be institutionalized or willy-nilly acculturated. Do not live another’s life. God made you a full human – use all your endowment and relish the liberating faith reality that you need not adopt the impossible burden of authoring a perfect, self-designed life of self-engineered success.

God made you to know happiness and satisfaction. He seeks only your faithfulness. Put God at the center of your life and proceed with confidence.

Br. Bob Sylvester

Sept. 20