Finding Purpose

About a month ago I attended a lecture by Michael Schutt on the “drudgery of law school.”  He was discussing the endless reading, writing and fact checking and the mundaneness of it all, and how we can respond.  During the lecture he highlighted four issues: dualism, sloth, pride, and as mentioned, drudgery, that is, being frustrated and not enlivened by what we do.

Dualism is that habit we all have of separating our professional life from our spiritual life or values.  There is no separation between what we eat and how that impacts our life, and in the same way, there is no separation between what goes into our spiritual life (or not) and the telling results.  If we pursue professional goals that are at odds with what we say our ethical values are, there will be consequences, not just outwardly, but in our inner life as well.  That does not mean all lawyers should be doing public interest law, not at all.  Only that there has to be consistency between what we believe, whatever that is, and what we do.

Sloth is not just a disease that infects the lazy.  Even the hard working can and do become slothful.  We become apathetic about issues of love and justice, beauty and truth.  Whether building a house or building a case, all of us can lose ourselves in the daily grind.  We cease to care about, or even be aware of the most important things in life, and doing so has consequences.

Pride of course is the professional sin of lawyers.  But I think it is worth noting that pride is often rooted in a sense of insecurity, a failure to see ourselves as we really are.  Many of us pursue our professional identity because we want to prove something, we want to be someone, and we want to overcome the cat-calls if only from our own soul.  The voices telling us we are not good enough.  Yes we want to help others, but we also want to prove that we are somebody, if only to ourselves, and all because we don’t have our identity rooted in a life giving source other than our own self-centered pride.

All of this can lead to a sense of drudgery.  We set off on a course for all the right reasons and all the wrong ones, and at some point come to realize that we are morally bankrupt.  For a judge I once heard speak, that meant reaching the height of professional success and contemplating suicide at the same time, sitting in his living room, loading and unloading a gun.

What then is a person to do if the downward slide seems inevitable? After all, who doesn’t do things for at least some of the right reasons and some of the wrong ones? Haven’t we all set out with an aim in mind only to find that we have lost our way to some degree? Maybe we are on the right course professionally but are we losing it at home? Maybe not to the point of “damn, I think I just might kill myself.” But really, are we truly satisfied? Of course we aren’t. We have been gorging on cinnabuns and cold pizza and then wonder why we can’t stay awake and are feeling lethargic.
The answer lies in personal and spiritual integration. Forgoing dualism and sloth, and fighting for a professional and personal life consistent with ones sense of ethics. This integration need not lead to a professional life removed from the grey areas of life where ethical dilemmas are common place. In fact it might lead one into such an area, because that is precisely where one is called to serveRegardless of the kind of work we do, we should pursue that vocation with a sense of calling. For me that sense of calling is rooted in Christian spirituality and the life and death of Jesus Christ.


Kristin said...

This really reached out to me this morning. I'm glad you sit behind me all day :-) I'm struggling with constantly reflecting, and trying to have an ongoing conversation with my spiritual-self, instead of thinking that it will be okay to ignore that part of me for three years and still somehow be whole.

David Best said...

I'm glad you found this helpful Kristin. I found it helpful to write, as these are my struggles too.