My new hero for the day is Amelia Rawls. She is a 1L at Yale (don’t roll your eyes yet), and wrote a piece that appeared in today’s Washington Post about whether Ivy grads are, well, nice people or not. Now, she isn’t making a completely broadbrush statement that everyone who attends an Ivy isn’t nice. Instead, she observes:
I’m saying that sometimes some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless. They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous and to “do what is right.” . . . It is these people, though, who often climb America’s ladder of success. They rise to the top, partly on their own merits yet also partly on the backs of equally deserving but “nicer” people who let them steal the spotlight.
Being a graduate of a nice, small, regionally strong liberal arts college, and then having gone on to a top 10 law school, I have experienced precisely what Ms. Rawls describes. I have to admit I was shellshocked when I got to law school at how really un-nice most of the folks there were. Not that everyone I went to college with was nice, but I was (and remain) deeply dismayed by how little value lawyers place on things like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and having a moral compass in the face of large quantities of money. There’s such a contempt in law for those so-called soft skills.
Soft implies weak to most lawyers and leaders of corporate America, which is a shame for so many reasons (see my friend Quinn’s discussion, for instance, of soft skills in the workplace). People who possess those skills can make a high-pressured workplace more bearable, and thus more productive. Unhappy people don’t do their best work. I know, I know, many unhappy lawyers think they do, because they are working so hard. But half of their labor is pouring enormous energy into getting themselves to do something they dislike, shouting down their own values and senses of self. That is a huge freaking lot of work, I can say from personal experience. But think about it–it means at best, only half of an unhappy’s person true potential is showing up at work. Yikes! for that person, even that lawyer, and for society as a whole.