Roger Ebert died last week and I feel like I lost a friend. We did not have a personal relationship, as we never met or exchanged words. But I have been reading Roger Ebert’s words continuously since I was 10 years old, more than 45 years ago, and he wrote like he was speaking to you.
When you read Roger Ebert’s words, you learned not only his opinion about a particular film, you learned something about humanity. He cared about the bigger issues and he blended that care into his reviews, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with joy.
In 2011, in his memoir, entitled “Life Itself,” he wrote the following:
“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
We don’t say enough about kindness or acknowledge its importance as often as we should. Roger Ebert was not the first to do so, but he wrote about kindness in a way that recognizes it as a courageous act. It is selfless, based on your good conduct towards others, without regard for receiving anything in return.
Henry James wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, stated, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
Kindness is sometimes not considered necessary in the legal profession. Lawyers advocate zealously, they champion their clients, they fight the legal battle. Highly skilled lawyers are characterized as sharks, the least kind creature on the planet.
But there is a place for kindness in the law, as in life. Kindness means being considerate, sympathetic, understanding, humane. In 2003, the American Film Institute listed the 50 greatest heroes in movie history. The greatest hero – beating out James Bond and Indiana Jones – was Atticus Finch, the lawyer portrayed by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Atticus Finch practiced law as a profession, with profound regard for his innocent client, Tom Robinson, who was wrongly convicted and subsequently killed. In one of the most memorable lines in the movie (and in Harper Lee’s book), Atticus tells his daughter, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
Trying to understand another person – being empathetic, considerate, humane – is simple kindness. As Roger Ebert reminded us, anyone who practices kindness makes the world a better place, even lawyers.
“We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”
I will miss Roger Ebert’s humor, insight, and humanity. But I am thankful I read him for so many years, and thankful that his words will always matter.
Michael Reedy is an attorney with McManis Faulkner whose practice focuses primarily on family law and constitutional issues. He has represented family law clients for twenty years, while developing expertise on the anti-SLAPP law.
For more information, please visit mcmanislaw.com.