The Chopsticks Compact

Akhil Sheth
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

Once, an ascetic spoke with god. “Lord, I want to know the difference between heaven and hell.” God took the ascetic to a great hall. In the middle was a long, wooden table, with benches on both sides filled with people. The tabletop was hidden beneath plates of the world’s most exquisite foods. The ascetic’s mouth watered.

The people were angry sacks of skin and bones. All of them had strange, meter-long chopsticks fastened to their hands. They could reach the food, but as much as they jostled each other, no one could maneuver the food to his mouth. These people, the ascetic realized, were doomed to eternal famishment within feet of a feast. “You have seen hell,” god said.

God then took the ascetic to an identical great hall. Here too there was a long table piled high with delicacies, with people sitting alongside. They also had the strange, long chopsticks. But here, the people were well fed. And, they were happy. “Now, you have seen heaven,” said god. The confused ascetic responded, “I don’t understand.”

“Here,” god answered, “they feed each other.”

~

“Here, they feed each other.” That’s it. That’s my vision for our school. Taken literally, that explains the pastries over the years. But of course, I mean more.

We exist in a profession that often breeds skepticism. The lawyer-statesperson’s weighty oration has yielded too much to the suited-up shark’s book of sale. We live in a time of economic hardship, which only heightens the competitive pressures created by placing driven, smart people into a historically adversarial crucible. Seeing this, naysayers have predicted our vision’s demise since before its inception.

We’re building a city upon a hill surrounded by a sea of cynicism. It’s true: it will sometimes be difficult to maintain our vision when faced with harsh realities. But that’s why it’s so critical for us, now, early in our history, to begin to clarify what we value, so that those values can become institutionalized and serve as the ideological foundation upon which future generations build, and the aspirational well from which they draw when they are confronted by their generation’s own difficulties.

Others have written wonderful visions about our school becoming a place that values excellent lawyering, public service, interdisciplinary scholarship, and other worthy goals. To this, let’s add a commitment to feeding each other. This venture has made us all—students, staff, faculty, and administrators, alike—sisters and brothers, bonded by our audacious attempt to change the world. More than mere civility or collegiality, let’s commit to taking care of this family in ways that will baffle and amaze others, and more difficultly, ourselves. Let’s be competitive about that. Let’s agree to do this, no matter what. Let’s commit to it as part of our identity. Doing so is itself worthy, but will also have the effect of making us happier lawyers and better people. And, it will help us accomplish our individual and collective goals.

Like any meaningful principle, there’s a price for adherence. It’s hard to give a hand to another when your own are full. It takes peculiar grace to be kind to those with whom we aren’t acquainted or don’t like. But for us founders, that’s fair. For of those to whom much is given, much is required. Even those of us who don’t enjoy generous scholarships enjoy all of the benefits of being part of the select few who are building this place, even if we don’t always appreciate how fortunate we are.

You all have been my keeper, and I’ve tried to be yours. We’ll never be perfect at it, but it’s vital we keep trying. We’ve committed ourselves not just to a law school, but also to fulfilling an ambitious vision. Law school, even here, may never be heaven, but if we feed each other above all else, we can do the fantastic.