Monday, December 12, 2022
My classroom teaching for the semester is over. I am in "grading mode"--not my favorite way of being. But final assessments must be completed! (Wishing you well in completing yours.)
Before I left the classroom, however--specifically, in the last class meeting for my corporate finance students--I did have some fun. I saved my last class session in the course to address what my students wanted me to cover. I asked for the topics in advance. They covered a range of corporate finance topics, from litigation issues (Theranos, FTX, and current hot legal claims) through common mistakes to avoid in a corporate finance practice to survival tips for first-year law firm associates. Weaving all of that together in a 75-minute class period was a tall task.
My ultimate vehicle was to come up with a list of maxims--short-form guidance statements--that would allow me to address all of what my students had asked me to cover. I came into class with just a few maxims to get us started and cover the basics. But the conversation was very engaged and got rich relatively quickly. As we riffed off each other's questions and comments, my little list grew to a robust thirteen maxims!
Before I erased the white board and left the classroom, I took a picture of each of the two white board panels generated from our conversation. Those pictures are included below. Despite my handwriting, I am hoping you can see what we came up with real-time. If not, set forth below is our jointly created list of principles (edited slightly), many of which apply equally outside a corporate finance practice.
- Act based on legal analysis (rules applied to facts), rather than speculation or assumptions.
- Pay attention to licensure and competence--your reputation is at issue.
- People--networking, human resources--are critical to practice.
- Fraud is real; be on the lookout for it, and do what you can to protect clients from it.
- The same is true for for breaches of fiduciary duty.
- Take an issue as far as you can before consulting.
- Learn when to decide and when to consult.
- Keep abreast of changes in law, business, etc. relevant to your practice.
- Don't check your common sense at the door (with a hat tip to GWK--George W. Kuney, one of my colleagues).
- Time is important--show up on time, meet deadlines, etc.
- Manage your time away from the office; don't forget personal care/wellness. (Drugs--including caffeine--are not the answer.)
- Hand colleagues and clients your best work (within the allotted time).
- Take time to enjoy your colleagues, clients, and work--there is great joy in this practice.
Which of these maxims resonate most with you? Which of them would you amend by adjustment or addition? What maxims do you share with your students? Leave thoughts in the comments!
Friday, October 21, 2022
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
It is again Well Being in Law Week!
Ways for individuals to engage with the week can be found here. On that page, the organizers note that "[e]ach of the 5 days in Well-Being Week is focused on one dimension of overall well-being." Today's objective is alignment (spiritual wellbeing)--"Cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose in work and life. Aligning our work and lives with our values, goals, and interests." As we head into the spring semester exam season, try focusing in on yourself a bit more this week. There is no time like the present! Namaste, y'all.
Saturday, February 5, 2022
In 2013, acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders gave a commencement speech on kindness at Syracuse University. The speech went viral, the transcript landed on The New York Times blog, and the talk later became the basis of a book.
The entire speech is well worth listening to, but the gist is Saunders saying: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”
Oxford English Dictionary defines “kindness” as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
When I think of the profession of law, “kindness,” “friendly,” “generous,” and “considerate” are sadly not among the first words that come to mind. “Analytical,” “bold,” “competitive,” “critical,” and “justice” were the first five words I would use to describe our field.
As C.S. Lewis reportedly said, “love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness,” but I am not sure love is ever less than kindness. There may be ways, as negotiation theory teaches us, to “be soft on the person, but hard on the problem.” We can tackle injustice with vigor, but be mindful of the people across the tables from us.
Pre-pandemic, I put a real premium on “tough love” and preparing students for the rigors of practice. While I still think there is a place for the critical and exacting skills that law training tends to emphasize, I also think we would all do well to increase our focus on kindness.
Friday, December 31, 2021
People rarely keep resolutions, much less ones they don’t make for themselves, but here are some you may want to try.
- Post information about the law and current events that lay people can understand on social media. You don’t need to be a TikTok lawyer and dance around, but there’s so much misinformation out there by “influencers” that lawyers almost have a responsibility to correct the record.
- Embrace legal tech. Change is scary for most lawyers, but we need to get with the times, and you can start off in areas such as legal research, case management, accounting, billing, document automation and storage, document management, E-discovery, practice management, legal chatbots, automaton of legal workflow, contract management, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based applications. Remember, lawyers have an ethical duty of technological competence.
- Learn about legal issues related to the metaverse such as data privacy and IP challenges.
- Do a data security audit and ensure you understand where your and your clients’ data is and how it’s being transmitted, stored, and destroyed. Lawyers have access to valuable confidential information and hackers know that. Lawyers also have ethical obligations to safeguard that information. Are you communicating with clients on WhatsApp or text messages? Do you have Siri or Alexa enabled when you’re talking about client matters? You may want to re-think that. Better yet, hire a white hat hacker to assess your vulnerabilities. I'll do a whole separate post on this because this is so critical.
- Speaking of data, get up to speed on data analytics. Your clients use data every day to optimize their business performance. Compliance professionals and in-house lawyers know that this is critical. All lawyers should as well.
- Get involved with government affairs. Educate legislators, write comment letters, and publish op-ed pieces so that people making the laws and influencing lawmakers can get the benefit of your analytical skills. Just make sure you’re aware of the local, state, and federal lobbying laws.
- Learn something completely new. When you do your CLE requirement, don’t just take courses in your area of expertise. Take a class that has nothing to do with what you do for a living. If you think that NFTs and cryptocurrency are part of a fad waiting to implode, take that course. You’ll either learn something new or prove yourself right.
- Re-think how you work. What can you stop, start, and continue doing in your workplace and family life?
- Be strategic when thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lawyers talk about it, but from what I observe in my lawyer coaching practice and the statistics, the reality is much different on the ground and efforts often backfire.
- Prioritize your mental health and that of the members on your team. Do you need to look at billable hours requirements? What behavior does your bonus or promotion system incentivize? What else can you do to make sure that people are valued and continually learning? When was the last time you conducted an employee engagement survey and really listened to what you team members are saying? Whether your team is remote or hybrid, what can you do to make people believe they are part of a larger mission? There are so many resources out there. If you do nothing else on this list, please focus on this one. If you want help on how to start, send me an email.
Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.
December 31, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Film, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, September 4, 2021
Happy Labor Day Weekend!
It's time to relax and recharge. If you're a professor or a student, you've likely just started class again. If you're like me, you're already behind and a bit overwhelmed. If you're a practicing lawyer, you may be working at home, in an office, or both. With all of the uncertainty about office re-openings, the economy, wildfires, hurricanes, and COVID, you may be a bit stressed, and not in a good way (yes, there is "good" stress). Lawyers, as we know, have high rates of burnout, chronic stress, suicide, depression, substance use disorders, and other maladies that could affect the way we practice law and our level of fulfillment while practicing.
I've been a happy lawyer for thirty years. But I've had personal and health challenges, so I've spent most of the past eighteen months learning healing modalities to help me physically and mentally. I've become certified in meditation facilitation, NLP (neurolinguistic programming), EFT (emotional freedom technique)/tapping, reiki, mental health first aid, and hypnotherapy.
Below are some of the quick fixes that work for me. I've also conducted CLEs for lawyers on stress management, and have received feedback that the methods below work. I've even taken some students through some of these breathing exercises during office hours to help them calm down (admittedly, sometimes I cause that stress).
Don't worry, I won't ask you to sit in a lotus position chanting "om" or do any yoga poses (although I do that too).
I just want you to breathe. You do this all the time, but are you breathing in a shallow way? Probably. How many breaths are you taking a minute? How are you oxygenating your blood and brain?
As you do more breathwork, try to imagine the breathing coming from your heart (try the HeartMath coherence technique), and make the exhale longer than the inhale.
Remember, if you feel lightheaded or dizzy, please stop. I'm not a doctor, so please check with a healthcare provider before trying anything in this post. Once you receive the go-ahead, try them all and see which works for you. Better yet, get your family involved. If you have children, have them participate or count the seconds while you breathe. Soon they may join in. Imagine a world where children grow up with tools to regulate their emotions.
All of the tips below take 5 minutes or less. If you can go on for longer, that's great. If you only have 1-2 minutes, that works too. But if you say you don't even have a minute for deep breathing, then you need to stop and breathe more than anyone else.
Tip #1- Breathe through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Make sure that y
our stomach expands on the exhale (imagine a baby sleeping with the belly rising and falling). Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Breathe out for 6 seconds through your mouth. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Tip #2- Alternate nostril breathing. Close your eyes. Put your thumb over your right nostril. Put your ring finger on your left nostril. Exhale slowly and deeply through your right nostril. Repeat for 3-5 minutes. Longer is better.
Tip #3- Close your eyes. Put one hand on your heart. Put the other hand on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds. Your hand on your belly should rise. Exhale fully through your mouth. Let out a sound like a big sigh. As you breathe, you can say to yourself, "I breathe in peace, I breathe out stress." Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Tip #4- Sit, stand, or lie down. Imagine there is a white column of light 300 feet above your head showering you with light. Imagine your feet are roots going to the center of the earth. Take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. On the inhale, say "peace" and on the exhale, say "calm" or another word. Repeat the breathing and calming phrases for 3-5 minutes while you imagine the light around you.
Tip #5- 5-4-3-2-1- Take 3, long, deep, slow breaths. With your eyes open, notice 5 things you can see. With eyes open or closed, think of 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Take 3 deep breaths. This is especially helpful when you're feeling anxious because it forces you to focus on the present, even for a few moments.
Tip #6- If the breathing is too much, find your favorite song. Pick a song you would dance to or sing to no matter where you were. Dance like no one is watching. Sing loudly and badly. Try this for one or two songs. This can both energize and calm you. I often do this between calls and meetings.
If you want to try something more advanced, try the Wim Hof breathing method. With Wim Hof, you will be lightheaded. You will tingle. It may be scary. But there are science-based reasons for all of those sensations, and people have seen remarkable results. You can also take cold showers, which have great health benefits. Start at 15 seconds in cold water and then build your tolerance.
If you really want to push yourself, try an ice bath. All of my breathwork and meditation training made it a breeze to sit in a tub of ice for over six minutes. Maybe you don't want to do an ice bath. You just want to make it through the next meeting. You have nothing to lose by trying some of these tips. I'll close with a quote from Oprah Winfrey. "Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure."
Have a safe and healthy holiday. And remember to breathe.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
“Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from cowardice that does what is not demanded in order to escape sacrifice.” Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (p. 47).
Countless people reminded me how lucky I was to have my first sabbatical this past spring semester.
And I acknowledge my good fortune, not only for the change of pace, but also for the break during a difficult year.
But there was something uncomfortable about this past semester. I missed the classroom. I missed my colleagues and students. I missed my office. I missed my office calendar with multiple defined events scheduled throughout the day. I even missed my commute and faculty meetings. I missed--believe it or not--busyness.
While I had an endless amount of research and childcare responsibilities last semester, I realized that this was likely the least scheduled I’ve been since early childhood. For the first time that I can remember, I wasn’t constantly thinking about the next thing on my calendar.
I have always been fairly future oriented, and I think legal training makes you even more focused on the future. Good lawyers, especially good transactional lawyers, see around the corner, predict possible problems, and address these issues in contracts. Good lawyers tend to be planners with a high capacity for time management.
Prior to my spring sabbatical, I felt like my mind was always about 15 minutes ahead of my body. I didn’t even really realize this until I slowed down some during the sabbatical. The sabbatical allowed me, for the first time in memory, to be fully present. This full presence only happened in spurts, and it was both glorious and terrifying.
In Leaving the Future Behind, an essay in The Art of Loading Brush, Wendell Berry reminds us that the present is the only time we are alive. Preoccupation with the future, fearful worries or even hopeful wishes, threaten to draw us out of the present. And the present is where both good work and good relationships exist.
Without a doubt, we must still make time for planning, but this sabbatical started teaching me to cabin that planning time and to live more in the present than in the future. In addition, making time for silence is something I hope to continue. (I spent a day of silence at a convent in Dickson, TN and became a bit more consistent with taking a few minutes of stillness in the early mornings). Regular observance of outward silence--which is quite difficult with 3 young children in the house--can help cultivate inner silence and can lead to the mental stillness needed to reside fully in the present.
Monday, June 21, 2021
So much going on today . . . . Rather than choose one focus, I will offer three. Each is near and dear to my heart in one way or another.
Happy International Yoga Day to all. This year's theme is "Yoga for well-being" or "Yoga for wellness." The Hindustan Times reports: "On International Yoga Day on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said yoga became a source of inner strength for people and a medium to transform negativity to creativity amid the coronavirus pandemic." The United Nations's website similarly adds that:
The message of Yoga in promoting both the physical and mental well-being of humanity has never been more relevant. A growing trend of people around the world embracing Yoga to stay healthy and rejuvenated and to fight social isolation and depression has been witnessed during the pandemic. Yoga is also playing a significant role in the psycho-social care and rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients in quarantine and isolation. It is particularly helpful in allaying their fears and anxiety.
Yes! I am so grateful for yoga, including asanas and meditation, and other mindfulness practices at this time--for their positive effects on me, my faculty and staff colleagues, and my students. 👏🏼 Namaste, y'all.
I know from her Twitter feed today that co-blogger Ann Lipton will have much to say on today's publication of the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., at al. v. Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, et al. I will just note here two of the more prominent statements made by the Court in this Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 class action. They relate to the common ground between materiality determinations (a doctrinal love of mine and Ann's), which are matters for resolution at trial, and the establishment of a price impact of alleged misstatements and omissions, which is a matter for consideration at the class certification stage. The Court first concurs with the parties' agreement "that courts may assess the generic nature of a misrepresentation at class certification even though it also may be relevant to materiality, which Amgen reserves for the merits." Then, in footnote 2, the Court states the following:
We recognize that materiality and price impact are overlapping concepts and that the evidence relevant to one will almost always be relevant to the other. But “a district court may not use the overlap to refuse to consider the evidence.” In re Allstate, 966 F. 3d, at 608. Instead, the district court must use the evidence to decide the price impact issue “while resisting the temptation to draw what may be obvious inferences for the closely related issues that must be left for the merits, including materiality.” Id., at 609.
I am not a litigator, but it would seem to be a challenge to thread that needle . . . .
Finally, I want to note the successful conclusion of the 2021 National Business Law Scholars Conference last Friday. Despite our best efforts, there were a few technical glitches, fixed by the University of San Diego School of Law, the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, each of which assumed unplanned roles as meeting hosts for one of our sessions. (Thanks, again, to Jordan Barry, Mike Simkovic, and Will Thomas for making those arrangements.) But the range and quality of presenters and projects was impressive, and the sense of community among the attendees was--as it always is--a highlight of this conference. The conference tends to bring together a spectrum of international business law teacher/scholars at different stages of their academic careers, all of whom contribute to the productive, supportive, ethos of the event. My business law colleague George Kuney described the conference well in his opening remarks.
I am grateful to so many at UT Law--including especially George (who directs our business law center) and the faculty and staff who pitched in to host virtual meeting rooms with me. Their support was invaluable in hosting a virtual version of the conference two years in a row. I also want to share appreciation for the members of the National Business Law Scholars Conference planning committee (a shout-out to each of you, Afra, Tony, Eric, Steven, Kristin, Elizabeth, Jeff, and Megan) for their collaboration and encouragement, as well as the abundant trust they placed in me these past two years.
"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." ~ Helen Keller
Monday, May 3, 2021
Please join me in participating in Well-Being Week in Law (WWIL), #WellbeingWeekInLaw. WWIL is a week-long event that is aligned with Mental Health Awareness Month. (Yes, that's this month!) From the event website:
What’s The Purpose of WWIL?
The aim of WWIL is to raise awareness about mental health and encourage action and innovation across the profession to improve well-being. In 2021, the event’s name was changed from “Lawyer Well-Being Week” to Well-Being Week in Law to be more explicitly inclusive of all of the important contributors to the legal profession who are not lawyers.
Each day in the week, the WWIL program invites participants to focus on a different aspect of well-being, using this graphic as a guide:
I am planning on participating in WWIL activities as much as I can in this busy week filled with exams, papers, and the graduation for our third-year students.
Today's WWIL focus is physical well-being. I had a lovely 10,000+ step walk planned for this morning with a colleague to start the week off right. Rainstorms put the kibosh on that. (We are rescheduling . . . .) But I will try to get a walk in later in the day--outdoors, if the rain lets up for a bit or tapers off. Moreover, while I have not written about it recently, I do continue to practice and teach yoga. I also will work some yoga into the day later. It's a super antidote to that scrunchy feeling I get sitting at the computer all day! Both walking and yoga--desk yoga, specifically (check it out!)--are mentioned on a nifty WWIL webpage that offers ideas for how individuals can participate.
In addition to these movement-oriented ways of looking out for my physical well-being, now that classes are done for the semester (yay for that!), I have refocused attention on getting at least seven hours of sleep and hydrating more frequently and consistently. I also am cutting way back on coffee, which has been doing a number on my stomach of late. I try to eat a balanced diet (I am a meat, fish, and poultry eater and love almost every food imaginable), although I know that I can always use more veggies and fruits in my day! Perhaps some of these things also represent helpful suggestions for your well-being.
A good diet is hard to come by, however--at least sometimes. And there are specific health issues that I must focus on as I prepare to start my seventh decade of life in less than two weeks. (Humbling.) So, maintaining physical wellness, for me, also involves taking supplements and medications. I have recently recommenced taking iron supplements for a slightly low iron count that has been dragging my energy level down lately (something I also wrestled with a year ago--cause investigated and still unknown), even though doing that makes me cranky because of the way I have to sequence taking those supplements and a GERD medication that I dutifully take every morning. I also am restarting omega-3 supplements, which are known to lower high triglyceride levels (something I have contended with in the past). And I regularly take vitamin D supplements and an anti-cholesterol medication, as prescribed by my doctor. It's a lot to focus on, but I am worth it!
Gratefully, there is a lot of solid programming out there for lawyers who desire to improve their well-being. Even continuing legal education programs now cover this space (I have given two sessions on mindfulness) as part of professional responsibility/ethics training. And if you are interested in lawyer wellness--or just in avoiding burnout (read on)--you may want to check out a new podcast series that premieres on Wednesday: Leveraging Latitude. One of the co-hosts, Candice Reed, is an engaging UT Law alum who is the co-founder of a legal services recruitment/placement firm. She teaches in UT Law's Institute for Professional Leadership. (I sat through her "Thriving as Lawyer" class this semester. It was truly inspiring.) On LinkedIn, Candice notes the following about Wednesday's podcast:
Our first guest is former attorney and resilience expert Paula Davis. We'll be discussing her new book, Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Well-being and Resilience. This book is fantastic and full of pragmatic, science-backed strategies for addressing burnout, and Paula is a dynamic speaker and teacher. I hope that you will listen to our conversation.
Sounds like a highly relevant program, especially for us law professors at the end of a difficult semester and academic year.
Finally, I want to give a loving shout-out to co-blogger Marcia Narine Weldon. If you are not connected with her through LinkedIn, you are missing out in many ways--including as to tips on lawyer well-being. Her latest post, from yesterday, is here. In that post and the embedded video, Marcia honors Mental Health Awareness Month and advises us to take care of ourselves, especially if we take care of others. She offers multiple suggestions for ways to accomplish that self-care. Marcia also has shared wisdom on lawyer well-being here on the BLPB. She started us off in 2021 by counseling us on how to thrive this year and recently offered information on the business case for promoting, supporting, and even prioritizing attorney well-being. The courage and candor she shows in all of these communications is laudable and evidence of her caring nature and support for the legal community. Her work is an inspiration for this post.
Be well, y'all.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
On sabbatical, so this was a pretty good semester of reading (for me). 23 books and two online courses. A good bit about contemplation and religion with some philosophy and fiction. The Remains of the Day and A River Runs Through It were probably my two favorite, though the Merton and Willard books were meaningful too.
Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About it) - Elizabeth Anderson (2017) (Philosophy). Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University. Four commenting essays by different professors follow, then Professor Anderson responds. Her main claim is that Adam Smith and others envisioned a free market with large amounts of self-employment. But powerful modern employers have become “unaccountable communist dictators” who use the rhetoric of freedom, but provide very little of it within their firms. Many employees have no “dignity, standing, or autonomy” in their firms and Anderson calls for more of an employee role in governance, perhaps along the German codetermination model.
Invitation to Solitude and Silence- Ruth Haley Barton (2004) (Religion). “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.”
The Stranger - Albert Camus (1942) (Novel). Death, relationships, crime, and the absurd. “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains - Nicholas Carr (2011) (Culture). Extending Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964) and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) to the Internet. Since reading Postman’s book, I’ve been curious about what he would say about the Internet, and Carr attempts to do some of that work, looking especially at our diminished attention spans.
My Name is Hope - John Mark Comer (2011) (Religion). Faith, anxiety, and depression. A bit memoir and a bit self-help. Admits that he is not a doctor or a therapist, but posits that there are root situational or historic causes under most cases of anxiety and depression. Makes calls for attention to the mind/body connections, prayer and meditation, and transparency and forgiveness.
Garden City - John Mark Comer (2015) (Religion). Faith, work, and rest. “The American Dream...has devolved over the years into a narcissistic desire to make as much money as possible, in as little time as possible, with as little effort as possible, so that we can get off work and go do something else.”
Happy Money - Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (2013) (Behavioral Science). Buy experiences, not stuff. Make it a treat, not daily indulgence. Savor. Buy time; outsource dreaded time-consuming tasks. Time affluence tied to greater happiness. Stay present. The slow movement. Buy now, consume later (“delaying consumption allows spenders to reap the pleasures of anticipation without the buzzkill of reality, vacations provide the most happiness before they occur.”) Invest in others; people who donate to charity report feeling wealthier.
The Happiness Hypothesis - Jonathan Haidt (2006) (Psychology). Happiness and meaning and positive psychology through the lens of ancient wisdom. Elephant (desire) and the rider (reason). Happiness = Set Point (Meditation, Cognitive Therapy, Prosac) + Living Conditions ($70K, commute, relationships) + Voluntary Activities (gratitude, building community, being useful).
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (1988) (Novel). British butler ponders duty, dignity, family, love, bantering, and tradition on a few days of countryside driving and reminiscing.
How to Be an Antiracist - Ibram X. Kendi (2019) (Race). The expectations and comments of his teachers struck me. I have known about the powerful positive potential of our words as professors, but Kendi’s work reminds me that we can do great harm as well. Kendi writes “ I internalized my academic struggles as indicative of something wrong not just with my behavior but with Black behavior as a whole, since I represented the race, both in their eyes - or what I thought I saw in their eyes-and in my own.” He noted that “Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are 29 percent less likely to drop out of school.” He did a nice job showing problems with standardized testing, but did not have much in terms of detailed proposals in changing college admissions.
The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence (1895) (Religion). “His only thought was about doing little things for the love of God, since he was not capable of doing great things. Afterward, whatever happened to him would be according to God’s will, so he was not at all worried about it.” “Our sufferings will always be sweeter and more pleasant when we are Him, and without Him, our greatest pleasure will be but a cruel torture.” “I would like to be able to persuade you that God is often nearer to us in our times of sickness and infirmity than when we enjoy perfect health.”
Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis (1943) (Education). Short book on education, truth, the doctrine of objective value, recognizing our flaws (Lewis did not like being around small children). justice, and valor.
Extraterrestrial: The First Signs of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth- Avi Loeb (2021) (Space). Harvard astronomy professor discusses Oumaumua, an odd interstellar object, sighted for 11 days in October of 2017 and the possibility that we are not alone in the universe. He bemoans the closed mindedness of some academic disciplines and argues for humility (even as he brags a bit about his accomplishments).
A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean (1989) (Novel). Family and fishing. Younger brother, troubled and beautiful. Supposedly first novel published by University of Chicago Press.
No Man is an Island- Thomas Merton (1955) (Religion). OK to be ordinary. “All things are at once good and imperfect. The goodness bears witness to the goodness of God. But the imperfection of all things reminds us to leave them in order to live in hope. They are themselves insufficient. We must go beyond them to Him in Whom they have their true being.” “Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened and debased by the constant noise of machines and loudspeakers, the dead air and the glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestions of advertising and propaganda.” (108-09). “The cornerstone of all asceticism is humility.” (113). “A [person] who is not at peace with himself projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with, and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him….In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life...Our Christian identity is, in fact, a great one; but we cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great.”
New Seeds of Contemplation- Thomas Merton (1964) (Religion). "There is no true peace possible for the man who still imagines that some accident of talent or grace or virtue segregates him from other men and places him above them" “Hate in any form is self-destructive, and even when it triumphs physically it triumphs in its own spiritual ruin.” “Hurry ruins saints as well as artists.” “If we were incapable of humility we would be incapable of joy, because humility alone can destroy the self-centeredness that makes joy impossible.” “A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.”
In the Name of Jesus - Henri Nouwen (1989) (Religion). From Harvard to working with people with mental challenges at L’Arche. Brought Bill with him to talk to aspiring ministers in Washington D.C. - “we did it together.”
Can You Drink the Cup? - Henri Nouwen (1996) (Religion). “Joys are hidden in sorrow.” "We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.”
The Tyranny of Merit - Michael Sandel (2020) (Philosophy). Even if we had a level playing field, the talented would win and talent is not deserved or earned. A bit short on solutions, but suggests a lower bar for elite college admissions and then lottery to select who goes. Thinks this would inject a bit of humility into the process and dispel that elite college admissions is earned by the individual.
The Ethics of Authenticity - Charles Taylor (1991) (Philosophy). Searches for a nuanced view of authenticity--exploring subjectivism, narcissism, apathy, horizons of significance, dialogue, and social traditions. (Lectures entitled “Malaise of Modernity”)
The Spirit of the Disciplines - Dallas Willard (1988) (Religion). Disciplines of Abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice). Disciplines of Engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission).
The Great Omission - Dallas Willard (2014) (Religion). The great commission is not just about conversions, but about making *disciples* of all kinds of people.
Called to Business - Dallas Willard (2019) (Religion) Extremely short book. A few articles on faith and work; serving others while making a living.
The Promise Podcast (2020) - ~5 hours. Season 2. East Nashville public schools, diversity, wealth, and school choice.
Friday, March 12, 2021
It's been one year since the US declared a pandemic. It's been a stressful time for everyone, but this post will focus on lawyers.
I haven't posted any substantive legal content on LinkedIn in weeks because so many of my woo woo, motivational posts have been resonating with my contacts. They've shared the posts, and lawyers from around the world have reached out to me thanking me for sharing positive, inspirational messages. I hope that this care and compassion in the (my) legal community will continue once people return back to the office.
Earlier this week, I took a chance and posted about a particularly dark period in my life. I've now received several requests to connect and to speak to legal groups and law firms about mindset, wellness, resilience, and stress management. I've heard from executives that I used to work with 15 years ago asking to reconnect. Others have publicly or privately shared their own struggles with mental health or depression. I'm attaching a link to the video here. Warning- it addresses suicide prevention, but it may help someone.
I'm also sharing an article that my colleague Jarrod Reich wrote last year. He and I have just finished sitting on a panel on Corporate Counsel and Professional Responsibility Post COVID-19, and it's clear that the issue of lawyers and mental health could have been its own symposium. Here is the abstract for his article, Capitalizing on Healthy Lawyers: The Business Case for Law Firms to Promote and Prioritize Lawyer Well-Being.
This Article is the first to make the business case for firms to promote and prioritize lawyer well-being. For more than three decades, quantitative research has demonstrated that lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, and addiction far in excess of the general population. Since that time, there have been many calls within and outside the profession for changes to be made to promote, prioritize, and improve lawyer well-being, particularly because many aspects of the current law school and law firm models exacerbate mental health and addiction issues, as well as overall law student and lawyer distress. These calls for change, made on moral and humanitarian grounds, largely have been ignored; in fact, over the years the pervasiveness of mental health and addiction issues within the profession have persisted, if not increased. This Article argues that these moral- and humanitarian-based calls for change have gone unheeded because law firms have not had financial incentives to respond to them.
In making the business case for change, this Article argues that systemic changes designed to support and resources to lawyers will avoid costs associated with lawyer mental health and addiction issues and, more importantly, create efficiencies that will increase firms’ long-term financial stability and growth. It demonstrates that this business case is especially strong now in light of not only societal and generational factors, but also changes within the profession itself well. As firms have begun to take incremental steps to promote lawyer well-being, lasting and meaningful change will further benefit firms’ collective bottom lines as it will improve: (1) performance, as clients are demanding efficiency in the way their matters are staffed and billed; (2) retention, as that creates efficiencies and the continuous relationships demanded by clients; and (3) recruitment, particularly as younger millennial and Generation Z lawyers—who prioritize mental health and well-being—enter the profession.
If you have any feedback on Jarrod's article or tips on how you are coping, surviving, or thriving in these times, please feel free to drop them in the comments.
Take care and stay safe.
Friday, January 1, 2021
Happy New Year!
I first posted this on Thrive Global a few weeks ago. In the spirit of the New Year, I'm sharing it with you all.
It’s time to work on your happiness like it’s a full-time job. 2020 has challenged everyone and 2021 may not be much better. You’ve made it this far so now it’s time to reclaim your power at work with these five tips.
- Worklife balance is a myth. Whether you’re working from home or actually going to a work site, there’s no such thing as work life balance and there never has been. It’s impossible to devote your full attention to work and family at the same time — something will suffer. As time management guru David Allen explained, you can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything you want. Learn how to say no to anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. For me, if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a hell no. Unless you can’t say “no,” use your non-work time to do something that brings you joy and sustains you. Find a passion project. When you focus on life balance, your work life will improve.
- Change your thoughts and change your life. Do you focus on everything that’s happened to you? Why not reframe that to believe that everything happens for you? What are the lessons that you can learn from the curveballs that life has thrown at you? A job loss could be your impetus to start your own business or go back to school. An abusive boss may be what you need to get out of your comfort zone and look for another job. Changing your mindset will help you at home and at work because you’ll get much less frustrated over things you can’t control. You’ll soon be the go-to person because you’ve shown that you can be flexible and you’re able to pivot. Resilience and grit are key currencies in the workplace, particularly in the age of COVID.
- Forgive no matter what. Before you stop reading, I didn’t say that you have to forget. Anger and resentment impacts everyone in your life and it can affect your health. You’re either complaining to your colleagues about your family or complaining to your family about your colleagues. Don’t demand an apology and don’t dwell on the fact that you’re “right.” Forgive without conditions and treat everyone as though they only have 24 hours to live. Forgiveness is a gift, not to the other person but to yourself. Once you forgive someone, they no longer have power over you because they no longer take up space in your head or your heart. You don’t even have to tell the person you’ve forgiven them, but it helps. Acknowledge any role you’ve played in the issue, apologize, and then forgive. Even if you don’t want to be magnanimous, just think of how much you’ll upset the power dynamic with the person who hurt you if you make it clear that you’re no longer angry with them. Remember, the opposite of hate isn’t love, it’s indifference. No matter what they’ve done, let it go and set yourself free. You’ll be much lighter and a much more pleasant person to be around.
- Words have power. We’ve all heard about the power of affirmations and gratitude. I wake up in the morning and journal about what I’m grateful for, even if what I want hasn’t happened yet. I’m specific and I write in the present tense. I see, feel, smell, taste and hear what I would experience if what I wanted was true. Sooner or later, some variation of what I journaled or something better comes to pass. When you dream big, you achieve big. Think of that job or promotion as though it were already yours. But words are equally powerful when you speak negatively. Do you say, “I always get sick,” “the boss will never promote me,” or “I hate my job”? Think about what you say to yourself and how that corresponds to where you are in your life. I’ve literally gone to the hospital within days of telling someone they were going to cause me to have a heart attack or stroke. Twice.
- Have your FU fund and make sure people know about it. This is my most important tip. Never let your employer think you need the job. Know your value and then add tax to it. When you have a “forget you” fund, you’re not tied to either a job or a relationship for financial reasons. This affects how people treat you because they know that you can leave without a second thought if you see something unethical, get passed over for a promotion, or don’t get the respect you deserve. When I was in corporate America, I had saved enough to live for two years without working. My boss knew it and so did the board of directors. But let’s be honest, some of us are struggling just to pay the bills. In that case, start thinking of your side hustle. What skills are in demand? What kinds of certifications can you take online? How many other languages do you know? Are you using LinkedIn or Clubhouse to make meaningful contacts? If you have time for Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Netflix, you have time to learn something new so that you can level up your skills and be ready for any opportunities that open up either in your current workplace or someplace else.
Old habits are hard to break. If you’re a people pleaser, think self-care is selfish, have limiting beliefs, or have resentments that you can’t let go of, some of these tips may seem out of reach. If so, find an accountability partner and just pick one or two to work on. It will change your life. Don’t just survive 2021. Thrive.
If this woo woo stuff appeals to you, feel free to follow me on Instagram at @illuminatingwisdom or check me out on my website.
Finally, I hope to "see" some of you at AALS on January 8 at 1:15 EST at the Section on Socio-Economics, Co-Sponsored by Business Associations, Minority Groups and Securities Regulation: For Whose Benefit Public Corporations? Perspectives on Shareholder and Stakeholder Primacy. Join me and co-bloggers Joshua Fershee and Stefan Padfield, along with:
- Robert Ashford, Professor of Law, Syracuse University College of Law
- Lucian Arye Bebchuk, James Barr Ames Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance and Director, Program on Corporate Governance Harvard Law School
- Margaret M. Blair, Milton R. Underwood Chair in Free Enterprise; Professor of Law,Vanderbilt University Law School
- June Rose Carbone, Robina Chair in Law, Science and Tech, University of Minnesota Law School
- Sergio Alberto Gramitto Ricci,Cornell Law School
- Michael P. Malloy, Distinguished Professor of LawUniversity of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law
- Edward L. Rubin, University Professor of Law and Political ScienceVanderbilt University Law School
- George B. Shepherd, Emory University School of Law
Stefan is giving us 8 minutes each, so there's no way you can get bored. See you there!
Sunday, August 2, 2020
(A bit of the harvest picked from my parent's garden in north Georgia yesterday)
Last Thursday my neighborhood book club discussed work by poet David Whyte. This book club has been especially life-giving during the pandemic. I have deep admiration for every member of the group and always learn from our meetings. In March and April, we briefly moved to Zoom, but were unable to capture the same energy. We then decided to meet in person, bringing chairs to a member’s spacious driveway that backs up to common green space.
The work we discussed last week was not actually a book, but rather a few hours of David Whyte’s musings, only available in audio form. Much of the talk involves Whyte reading poetry – primarily his own, Rainer Maria Rilke’s and Mary Oliver’s – and relating that poetry to questions many of us ponder in midlife.
While I can’t locate the exact quote in the long recording, Whyte used a harvesting metaphor effectively. Whyte suggests that if we don’t slow down to be present for the harvest times in our lives, the fruit will rot on the vine. He reminds us, for example, that our child will only be five years old for a relatively short season. By being present for the harvest, I think Whyte means celebrate (among other things).
The practice of law, at least as it appears to be carried out by most major firms, leaves precious little time for celebration. In fact, during my handful of years at two major law firms, I can only recall a single occasion of truly pausing to celebrate the harvest.
This occasion involved a closing dinner. A celebratory dinner after closing a deal to buy or sell a company is relatively common in M&A practice. In my somewhat limited experience, however, law firms often organized these dinners to impress clients and tee up future deals. Networking, not savoring, is the focus. Often only the partners and clients attend closing dinners. The associates (or at least the junior associates) are usually back in the office working on the next matter.
This dinner was different. King & Spalding partner Russ Richards had just closed two relatively large deals in the same week with the assistance of same four associate attorneys. While the hours had been grueling, even by BigLaw standards, I didn’t expect to be invited to a closing dinner. Surprisingly, Russ not only invited the other three associates and me, but also encouraged us to bring a dates. Moreover, this was not a dinner to impress the clients; no clients were invited. We did not spend much time, if any, setting up future deals. We just celebrated work well done with wonderful wine, food, and company.
If there were more of this sort of unadulterated celebration of the harvest in BigLaw, I imagine the turnover would be much lower. And maybe one of the reasons Russ Richards excelled in a 45+ year career with the same firm is because he created moments of celebration and reflection like these. As I have argued before, I think one of the ways to make BigLaw more humane is to work in some time for celebration and rejuvenation, perhaps in the form of sabbaticals. A formal promotion to “senior associate” around the four-year mark, followed by a brief sabbatical (even as short as one month) would do wonders for the profession. Even longer sabbaticals, perhaps tied to a project improving the community, could be worthwhile as well.
Of course life is not, and probably should not be, constant celebration. To stretch Whyte’s metaphor further—as anyone who has tried their hand at farming knows—fruit that is the product of a season of sweat tastes sweeter than fruit obtained from a grocery deliver service. The gritty, difficult, back-spasm-inducing times are an important part of the process. That said, especially for those of us bent more in the direction of overwork, making some space to celebrate the harvest is essential.
Finally, and importantly, we should make a point to notice and celebrate the achievements of others. Whyte seems to focus on being present for the fruition of our own work, but I am convinced that pausing to celebrate the accomplishments of others can be even more worthwhile.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
A few months ago, I mentioned taking the free Yale University online course The Science of Well Being taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
Before jumping into the substance of the course, I wanted to talk a bit about the format. The course was likely filmed with better equipment than most of us will have in the fall. The videos were mostly under 15 minutes each, and the videos usually had quiz questions to keep you engaged. Then there were longer quizzes at the end of sections and discussion boards.
Even though this was a Yale course, on an interesting subject, with a gifted professor, I probably would not have paid even $1 for this course. The material was surely worth more than $1, but there is simply too much good free information online, in this format, for me to pay anything for it. This fact is sobering to me as a professor, given that at least some of my students will be online-only this fall. The real value, I think, springs from interaction – between professor and student, and between the students themselves. As such, I need to plan my courses with a fair bit of this interaction.
Moving to the substance, Professor Santos noted eight things that the science shows improves well-being:
- Social Interaction
- Meaningful Goals
Professor Santos' ReWi application helps you track these things.
Think all of us know that those eight things are good for us, even if we do not always prioritize them.
Most helpful for me was the discussion of savoring. Previously, I simply had not paused long enough to dwell on the many good things in life. In The Plague, Dr. Rieux and his friend Tarrou savor nature before swimming during a brief break fighting disease. Camus describes it as follows:
Once they were on the pier they saw the sea spread out before them, a gently heaving expanse of deep-piled velvet, supple and sleek as a creature of the wild. They sat down on a boulder facing the open. Slowly the waters rose and sank, and with their tranquil breathing sudden oily glints formed and flickered over the surface in a haze of broken lights. Before them the darkness stretched out into infinity. Rieux could feel under his hand the gnarled, weather-worn visage of the rocks, and a strange happiness possessed him. (256)
Pausing long enough to watch the sea and feel the rocks on his hand is what Professor Santos is talking about when she describes savoring. Think we could all benefit by stopping, noticing, and savoring more I am committed to doing so
(Photo taken savoring the scene at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, North Carolina)
Sunday, April 19, 2020
In a reflection on the meaning of career success, a majority of my business ethics students mentioned happiness as a barometer.
“Happiness,” however, is an incredibly imprecise term. For example, here is over seventy-five minutes of Jennifer Frey (University of South Carolina, Philosophy) and Jonathan Masur (University of Chicago, Law) discussing happiness under two different definitions.
Frey, in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas, considers happiness not as a private good, but rather as the highest common good. Happiness is enjoyed in community. True happiness according to Frey, is bound up in the cultivation of virtue and human excellence. Under Frey’s definition, happiness makes room for sacrifice and suffering as beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Masur, a self-described hedonist, seems to have a more psychological, subjective view of happiness. Masur defines happiness as positive feelings, and unhappiness as negative feelings. Masur acknowledges that happiness--maybe even the deepest happiness--can arise from relationships and altruistic behavior. Unlike Frey, however, Masur includes positive feelings that are artificially produced or arising from unvirtuous behavior as part of “happiness.” Masur sees happiness and living a good, moral life as often overlapping, but as not necessarily intertwined.
These are two different conceptions of happiness. I think we need seperate words for the different conceptions--perhaps joy and pleasure--though I do not think any two English words fully capture the differences.
Somewhat relatedly, this month, my neighborhood book club is reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Throughout the book, Huxley explores a future devoted to pleasure. In this world, a drug called soma, a sport called obstacle golf, and touch-engaging films called the "feelies" combine to drown out negative emotions. While the elimination of virtually all infectious diseases seems enviable in this moment, there is very little I admire in the brave new world---it seems incredibly shallow. Some of Aristotle’s virtues are largely missing. Courage, temperance, and liberality are only seen in the outcasts of this world. Self-denial and committed relationships are strongly discouraged.
Ross Douthat, in The New York Times, hits some similar notes below:
- In effect, both Huxley and [C. S.] Lewis looked at the utilitarian's paradise--a world where all material needs are met, pleasure is maximized, and pain is eliminated--and pointed out what we might be giving up to get there: the entire vertical dimension in human life, the quest for the sublime and the transcendent, for romance and honor, beauty and truth.
But even John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian, seemed to realize that there can be a depth to happiness that extends beyond pure pleasure. Mill wrote:
- It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
Near the conclusion of Brave New World, the Savage (John) has an illuminating verbal spat with the Controller Mustapha Mond:
- Savage: "But I like the inconveniences [of life.]"
- "We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."
- "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
- "In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
- "All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I am claiming the right to be unhappy."
The Savage meets a tragic end (in part because he gets cut off from supportive community and has not grasped the concept of forgiveness), but I am still more drawn to his life--of pain and love, desire and disappointment, art and decay, principle and struggle--than to a life plugged into the pleasure producing experience machine.
Even though Frey and Masur disagree on the breadth of the term “happiness,” both seem to agree that devoted relationships, selflessness, and self-transcendence often lead to durable, deep happiness. While many of my business ethics students did not define “happiness” in their reflections, I hope they increasingly realize the fulfillment that can come from cultivating virtue in the midst of difficulty.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) previously defined "social enterprise" as businesses that (1) Directly address social need; (2) Commercial activity [not donations] drives revenue; and (3) Common good is the primary purpose. SEA's definition has evolved to be more inclusive, now recognizing three different models based on -- (1) opportunity employment, (2) transformative products/services, or (3) donations. While the first definition could be criticized for being too narrow (Ben & Jerry's would not qualify because their product does not directly address a "social need"), SEA's new definition is likely too broad because it seems to cover all donating businesses.
Personally, I am most fond of social enterprises that produce products/services that lead directly to human flourishing.
For Lent, I gave up Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. While these products have their uses, on the whole they tend distract me from what is truly important. Perhaps social media has improved since the advent of Covid-19, and I admit to feeling somewhat out of the loop. But I also feel much more at peace, and may not return to those forms of social media after Easter, or, if I do, I hope it will be on a much more limited basis.
In contrast, Strava is one form of social media that has been a constant positive in my life. Strava, for those who don't know, is a free app to log all kinds of physical exercise. I credit Strava (and my friends on Strava) with keeping me accountable to exercise 4+ times a week for the past 4+ years. The community on Strava is unlike any social media I have seen or heard of elsewhere. People are relentlessly encouraging, and the focus is on fitness not controversy. Also, as a Strava friend recently posted -- "love Strava because it’s the only social media platform with almost 100% factually accurate information and statistics. (Besides minor GPS errors and the occasional ‘wrong activity type’)." Strava has truly created a product that likely improves the lives of nearly all of its users.
Anyway, no sponsorship for me for this post, but I do hope to see more readers on Strava!
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
I am taking a free online course from Coursera and Yale University on the Science of Well-Being. The course is taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
I may blog about the course at a later date. I am taking the course both for the content and for online teaching strategies.
Update (1/2/21): While I found some suggestions in this course helpful, I think philosopher Jennifer Frey makes a thoughtful critique of this course and the happiness hacking it promotes. In relevant part, Professor Frey writes:
"Happiness, pagan and Christian philosophers agreed, requires something more than technique or self-help; it requires the transformation of the person that comes with the acquisition of virtue: wisdom, prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. Wisdom gives us a clear vision of what is truly good, prudence allows us to deliberate well so as to attain and maintain that vision, justice to realize it in our actions, and courage and temperance to preserve it in the face of fears and temptations. Acquiring virtue is not about hacking oneself or engaging in other forms of self-manipulation; it is about the proper habituation of one’s thoughts, feelings, and desires so that one becomes existentially ready to seek what is truly good and beautiful. In this view, there is a truth about the human desire for happiness, which is that it can either be properly directed toward the possession of what is actually beautiful and good, or it can be improperly directed, remaining within the prison of the self and closed off from transcendence."
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Last year, in a post about personal finance, I mentioned my friend Joey Elaskr, who is completing a PHD/MD program at Vanderbilt University. In late 2019, Joey qualified for the Olympic Trials at the Monumental Marathon in an impressive 2:18:57 (5:18 per mile for 26.2 miles). On February 29th this year, just a couple weeks after successfully defending his dissertation, he competed in the Olympic Trials in Atlanta. You can read a bit about Joey's running on Lets Run and on Money & Megabytes. While the tie to "business law" is admittedly stretched, I do think our readers can learn a good bit about juggling demanding responsibilities from Joey, and I am glad he agreed to answer a few questions below the break.
Monday, October 28, 2019
After spending the entire day grading undergraduate business law exams, I drove to my son’s elementary school for our first parent-teacher conference. On my wife’s advice, I mostly just listened. My legal and academic training have given me “a very particular set of skills” that I can use to construct and deconstruct arguments in a way some people find combative, so my wife's advice was probably wise.
The parent-teacher conference for our kindergarten-aged son went well. Most important to me, it was clear that our son’s teacher already appeared to love him and seemed committed to helping him develop. But I worry about what our education system may do to my son. Only two months into formal school, my sweet son, who has been in speech therapy since age two, is already receiving grades. Granted, the grades are pretty soft at this point – 3 for mastery, 2 for on track to complete this year, 1 for behind schedule. I hope he will not get overly discouraged. I also know he will not receive nearly as much affirmation in school for his impressive, budding artistic skills as he would for a photographic memory.
This parent-teacher conference, coupled with a handful of especially weak student exams, prompted a lot of thoughts about grading over the past few days.
As a parent, and increasingly as a professor, I am becoming convinced that we (as a society) over-focus on grades and our grades largely miss what is truly important. As a parent, I feel a good deal of responsibility for the development of my children, and as a professor, I obviously think education is an important part of human development. But before my oldest son started kindergarten this August, I wrote down some of the traits I hope my children will develop before they leave our home. In alphabetic order, they include:
While it is tempting to fixate on quantifiable things, like grades, I am attempting to model, praise, and teach the character traits above. And sometimes “failure” will develop these character traits better than “success.” I am seeing this in my son. He has already struggled more academically than I did in my entire educational experience, but, perhaps because of this, he is already significantly ahead of me in compassion and kindness.
As educators, if we are wed to giving grades, why do we only grade such a narrow set of skills? (For a debate in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the usefulness of grades, see here: useful and not useful.) For example, why do we often regulate athletic, artistic, and communication-based courses to pass/fail or effort-based grades, but mark academic work with such relative precision? (One theory is that teachers and administrators are generally naturally gifted in academic pursuits, but are generally not as gifted in athletic, artistic and communication-based areas.) In middle school, for physical education class, we were graded, in part, on our 1-mile time. If I remember correctly, under 6:00 was a 100% and you failed if you ran over 12:00. While it was only maybe 10% of our overall PE grade, I can’t imagine that many schools do that these days. And I understand the arguments against doing so – namely, some students have a significant genetic advantage over other students in endurance running. That said, the same can be said for test-taking. For most students, both endurance running and test-taking can be improved, but some students face much higher hurdles than others.
All of this thinking about grading has not led me to any definite conclusions yet, but I welcome thoughts in the comments. And, in coming semesters, I may try to diversify my grading even more, to capture more skills and to challenge a wider range of students. (The students who are most harmed by our current system may actually be the straight-A students who find tests easy, but who never or rarely face assessment in their naturally weaker areas). I already include a group project and participation as parts of the grade in most of my classes, but I could probably expand this to a higher percentage of the overall grade. That said, I also think that grades should reflect the level of proficiency obtained, so I think substantive knowledge will and should remain important.
Monday, August 12, 2019
In college, I majored in business administration with a concentration in finance, but I learned next to nothing about personal finance. Thankfully, my father provided some advice, and I did a bit of reading on the subject before I graduated law school. But I am still learning, and have dug deeper this summer.
More universities should instruct their students on matters of personal finance. As I mentioned a few months ago, I spoke on personal finance for a group of students at my university last school year, and I hope to bring Joey Elsakr to speak at my university this school year. Joey is a graduate student and is the co-founder of the blog Money and Megabytes.
Last week, Joey graciously invited me to guest post on his blog. As I mention in the post, I don’t think I have that much to add to his many useful and detailed posts on personal finance, but I do think personal finance gets a lot more difficult after you have a family (namely because there are so many more non-financial factors to weigh in most financial decisions). I pose some of those difficult questions in the linked post below, and I welcome any thoughts on those questions from our readers.