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Words of Wisdom from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
Mom with a View

Words of Wisdom from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

Taking your ego out of the equation.

by

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gave a beautiful speech at his son’s middle school graduation. My only question is whether it was wasted on them – how many were spacing out, glancing down at their phones, surreptitiously listening to some music or in other ways not really paying attention to his important message. His words were excerpted in the Wall Street Journal.

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.

I think some of the messages are very Jewish. I’d like to focus on two thoughts. The Chief Justice discusses the role of chance in life in pointing out that neither success nor failure is completely deserved. I would have used different words. Instead of chance, I would have said hashgacha, Divine providence. We make our efforts and whether they are met with success or failure is completely out of our hands.

It is as much of mistake to think that our success is due to our brilliance as it is to think that our failure is due to a lack thereof. There are bright, talented people who do not achieve worldly success and others, less clever and talented who do. We put in our best effort and the rest is out of our hands.

I think that Chief Justice Roberts wanted to warn the students to take their ego out of the equation which is a key message for all of us. I would venture to suggest that he just didn’t go quite far enough. It’s not that success or failure is not completely deserved; in general they are not “deserved” at all. The Almighty gives to us out of love not based on our merits. All the kindness we receive is undeserved. And if we experience a lack of success, it is not a punishment or due to some inadequacy on our parts, but rather the perfect opportunity for growth designed especially for us.

Which leads to the next point. As the last two lines make clear, life is full of tests. There will be disappointments and betrayals and failures and many other types of challenges. No one leads a life free of struggle. In fact the Talmud suggests that you if you haven’t had a test in 40 days, you should worry that the Almighty has given up on you. Tests are an opportunity to dig deep and achieve our potential. What loving parent doesn’t want that for his children?

Tests are not an occasion for bitterness or frustration or negativity. The “message in our misfortunes” is not like a line on a piece of paper in a Chinese fortune cookie. The message is the growth available. A teacher or parent knows that the message has been effectively communicated when he or she sees the student or child make changes to his personality, to his effort, to his attitude.

One might be tempted to think that someone who has achieved the role of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court has it all. What do they know of gloating or being ignored or developing compassion? But I venture to guess from his words that these are lessons hard won, some battles hard fought and some struggles still in place. And that what he wants to communicate to these young kids, as they approach the rough passage of adolescence, is to embrace their challenges as opportunities for growth. Don’t shy away from them or feel oppressed or burdened. They are the true gifts from a loving Father just as his words are a gift to his son.

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Anonymous, July 20, 2017 11:56 AM

Another expression comes to mind

Success isn't always final and failure isn't always fatal. I know someone who was the proverbial golden child for the first 50 years of his life, until he became critically ill 5 years ago. Ever since he developed his health problems, he has been fighting valiantly to get well. My point is that just because things were ostensibly "handed to him" early in life, it did not mean this good fortune would continue indefinitely. I am by no means calling the illness a failure, but it certainly threw a curve ball at him.

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