‘The Message in Your Misfortunes’

What is it like to be a Supreme Court Justice? It’s an interesting thought.

You get tremendous autonomy, as Justices get to choose which cases they will hear. Your decisions have tremendous and broad impact, as legal precedence is a real thing. And you get to see a wide view of how laws, justice and the Constitution are deployed “on the ground.”

So, it is with great interest that I read Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent graduation speech, which he gave at his son’s middle school. Here is an excerpt:

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

It reminds me of Tony Jarvis’ book With Love and Prayers (prior post here), in which he discusses, among other things, the importance of failure while young to develop spiritual muscle, compassion for others and the realization that setbacks can be good things.

IMO, many of our obstacles are “First World problems.”

When my cousin visited with us recently, we talked about the suffering that her father and my mother, as young war refugees, endured. In one day, their family lost everything they owned except for the few possessions they could carry with them. (More on my family here.)

The stress took a toll. My mother was 60 when she died, and my cousin’s father was 61. The other siblings, save for the youngest, fared similarly.

But, my uncle built a successful company that employed many family members. He also financially supported the siblings who needed it. He was extremely generous.

My mother was a person with strong values, who impressed upon me the importance of education and not wasting the opportunities that lie before us. I don’t recall a time when she placed her needs about her children’s. She never seemed to buy clothing at retail, let alone own anything with a designer label. It’s why it really befuddles me when I see adults who are narcissistic, talk about themselves a lot or think of themselves before their kids’ needs.

My mother and uncle both were very loyal to each other and their siblings. It was a family with many Type A personalities, but their love was fierce and true. You could count on them.

There really are messages in our misfortunes. May we all have the courage to seek them.

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