Freedom isn’t free, says the bumper sticker. That’s true, but usually the subtext is that we owe everything to those who have fought, and maybe died, for this country.
I am incredibly grateful for that sacrifice. My family, like many, many American families, has several veterans in it. But another sacrifice that really makes freedom a daily reality in America is one that gets overlooked too often: tolerance.
When you live with freedom, you get to live with differing opinions. Often, those opinions are 180 degrees from yours. They are repugnant, revolting, and really, I often wish they would go the hell away. I could do with a lot less of the hate-spewers and the fear-mongers, frankly. Of course, they could probably do with a lot less of me and my ilk, too.
I was living in the Washington, D.C. area on 9/11. One of the things I recall most vividly about the aftermath was how gently we treated each other, at least for a few days. All these diverse people, yes including lawyers, who usually rubbed uncomfortably against each other, were tolerating mistakes in traffic, tolerating different customs, tolerating those who they usually perceived as different and therefore OK targets of uncivil behavior.
We were, too briefly, united in the tolerance of our differences because we realized that the important thing was how we were all the same: we were Americans, and above all we loved our freedoms and the human dignity those freedoms enable. Freedom to think, act, and speak as we see fit, freedom to worship as we choose, and freedom to pursue happiness.
Freedom also means we have to police ourselves, and take responsibility for ourselves, our thoughts, our words, our actions, our faith. Freedom without responsibility to the community is just a continuous binge drunk.
And that is, frankly, what is wrong with far too many of our institutions, especially law firms and corporations. They’ve focused on the freedom to acquire money and other wealth (like power) and ignored their responsibility for the larger community they are a part of. They’re drunk on their money and power, and it’s ugly to watch.
When law firms increase their profits per partner while laying off attorneys and staff, all the pro bono programs in the world won’t convince me they care about their community. When law firms powers-that-be are allowed to dictate sleep deprivation and forbid time away from work to spend with family, I don’t believe they want to help nurture the next generation of lawyers.
Issue all the shiny press kits and publish all the slick websites you want, BigLaw, MediumLaw, SmallLaw, and InHouseLaw, but until you treat yourselves and your colleagues with dignity, respect and tolerance of differing needs and priorities, you’re not free.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on how to pursue their happiness and freedom in their careers and their lives. Sometimes she gets on a soapbox, like today. If you’re interested in freedom from career and other chains in your life, try a sample coaching session. Email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours today.