If we can’t see the light ourselves, how can we expect it of others?
by Caroline Nevin
At the start of the school year, the Vancouver Sun featured a vice-principal who spoke of our collective responsibility to children to respect and protect their innate sense of optimism and hope. His message was that we adults get caught up in the negatives about “The Real World” – funding cuts, accessibility, politics and the mundane – without thought to our extinguishing impact on youth’s bright flames of hope and limitless potential.
The parallels to the justice system are profound.
Let’s start with the concept of a career in law. How many of you are openly ambivalent about recommending it to your children or friends? How many have spoken to young lawyers, warning them that it’s nothing like they see on TV, providing a litany of negative “truths” lest they be disillusioned later in life? Try listening instead of talking, and gain a little light yourself from the spark in their eye and the heat of their passion for the law. With luck, you may re-acquire your own delight and pride in this profession.
How about in your workplace? Have you opened your mind to the possibility that every generation has valuable things to teach, and that you might learn something vital? Consciously think about how you can fan the enthusiasm and energy of the bright minds you have around you, and use it to feed your own flame.
What about public confidence in the justice system? Do you make a point of speaking well of opposing counsel, the judge, the police, the Crown, or the process and time involved in the administration of justice? Do you approach new ideas about the law or justice with interest and curiosity, rather than reasons they are bound to fail? Cynicism is the easy response, and too often the first and only.
Last month I attended the opening of the new downtown Community Court. It was a Saturday, and I expected little more than a dutiful appearance and standard photo op. Instead, I witnessed a small miracle of optimism. Gathered in the room were the Premier, Attorney General, Solicitor General, Chief Judge, three First Nations Chiefs, senior Vancouver Police Department members in dress uniform, seven judges in full robes, Crown Counsel, defence counsel, leaders and staff from the provincial government, Legal Services Society, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, City Council, and at least 10 other community agencies. Not one of the people in that room considers the Community Court to be the answer to the problems plaguing the downtown eastside. But every single person was willing to suspend disbelief and invest their energy, and their hearts, in the idea that it is possible to make a difference by trying something new. That room was filled with people who chose to uphold the value of optimism, in the face of much that could easily extinguish it. Why should any of us settle for less?
There is a strong, loud heartbeat at the centre of Canadian society – heard all around the world – and it is the sound of our justice system at work. You deserve to take pride in yourself and in your fellow men and women who have devoted their lives to this purpose. Don’t sell them – or yourself – short through negative thoughts, words or deeds. To the tenets of your honourable profession, I ask you to add one more: a duty of optimism.
This article was published in the October 2008 issue of BarTalk. © 2008 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.