Monday, January 9, 2006

Altruism—Lost and Found

Over this past weekend, my almost nine-year-old daughter did something involving more altruism than I have ever displayed in my significantly more years than that. She went into a hair salon and cut off a foot of her hair to mail to an organization called “Locks of Love,” so her beautiful hair can be made into a beautiful wig for a child who has lost their hair during medical treatment. This was a big deal; she had been growing her hair for well over two years (and was using the manager at our local Whole Foods with dreadlocks down to her knees as a role model). She did it because, “someone else needs it, and mine will grow back pretty fast.” It was as simple as that.

One of the many reasons that first year law students become depressed has been linked to a loss of altruism, a loss of the initial motivation for coming to law school that occurs almost immediately after the first set of grades appear. We should keep this in mind as classes resume this week.

As the grades come out, even those students who have done well are somewhat out of sorts. Losing sight of the light of the end of tunnel makes the tunnel seem so much longer and darker even if the ride hasn’t been all that unpleasant. Maybe the students realize this semester will require the same amount of work and the same proof that they are worthy at the end as the last one did.

But perhaps we can avoid this mid-year slump in morale by putting things in perspective for students. Think about it: 90% of the class isn’t in the top 10% of the class. That means that about 90% of lawyers out there practicing their trade were not in the top 10% of their class either. The bar is pass/fail. No one should define or re-define themselves on the basis of grades.   

Also, we need to direct students to look back at their initial motivation for coming to law school. It almost inevitably involves the words “to help” (for those who employ the words “gobs of money,” perhaps a reality check is more in order). Almost every student should still be able to do this regardless of their rank in the class.

There will, of course, be some students who will not make it through law school because their grades are unsatisfactory. We can’t act as if that is not a possibility because that would be condescending and misleading to students. However, for those students looking at their first academic C, we can remind them that in the course of their lives and careers, it will matter less and less as time goes on.

Self-esteem will also grow back pretty quickly if we remind students that they can do wondrous things for others when they are lawyers. And I am one proud mom. (ezs)

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