No easy route to success


  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 13 Jun 2007

Law is not just a heathen word for power. It is one of the primary, though not the sole, instruments for securing liberty, equality and social justice. 

ANOTHER semester has come to a close at my university. The graduating students are streaming into their lecturers’ offices to say goodbye and to seek last words of advice on how to face life as they cross the rubicon into the legal profession.  

Much as I would like to offer some simple recipes for “success”, I do not feel qualified to do so. My own life has been one of mediocrity. On the indices of wealth, power and position, I have nothing to show. I only have the lyrical words of Emerson to clutch to: 

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to endure the betrayal of false friends; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you live, this is to have succeeded”. 

As the shadows lengthen on my career and the colours of the evening change their hue, I reflect on life and on my 36 years as a student and teacher of law. 

I am inclined to think that success has very little to do with what we gain for ourselves. It is what we do for others; it is whether we matter to some calling or cause bigger than ourselves; that is more important. 

Pathways to success 

There is no magic wand or grand formula to achieve our goals or to flourish in any endeavour. A large number of factors need to come together to turn dares into doors, and adversities into opportunities. 

First of all, there must be conducive mental attitudes. There must be “visioning” or the formulation of a dream or goal. There must be intensity of commitment, a fire, a burning desire, that acts as the polestar of our daily actions. 

We must have faith in God and in our ability to rise to the occasion. On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear (Quran 2:286). We must doubt our doubts, but not our beliefs.  

Average ability with above-average motivation can help ordinary people achieve extraordinary things. It is attitude, not aptitude, that determines altitude.  

Second, there should be daily and long-term planning. We should sail on a chartered course and not just drift in the wind and the waves. We should act and not just react to emergencies and exigencies.  

Third, we need to act on our visions and goals. Dreams are the touchstones of our character. But they are not enough. We need to take concrete actions to reach them. Kipling cautioned against empty dreams. “If you can dream and not make dreams your master. If you can think and not make thoughts your aim”.  

We need to put our shoulder to the wheel, do what we can, however we can, with whatever resources are available to us. One must not wait for inspiration to get started on the job. Inspiration often turns up after we have started. 

We need to work hard at whatever we do. Hard work compensates for lack of genius. A toiling tortoise can beat a heady hare. The secrets of success are constancy of purpose and discipline. Success requires a sustained effort over a period of time.  

Fourth, we should attempt excellence at whatever role destiny has assigned us. Whatever we do, we should do well. We should take pride in our work. There are no small jobs – only small people. The most admirable human beings are those who do ordinary jobs in extraordinary ways.  

Role of teachers 

In three-and-a-half decades in the classroom it has been my privilege to touch and be touched by the lives of thousands of students. I am deeply conscious of the richness and the multiplicity of a law teacher’s role, and of my deficiencies.  

The most obvious role is that of an educator. A law teacher disseminates ideas, principles and ideals that have accumulated over the course of centuries. He shares what he has inherited from all the thinkers who preceded him.  

He promotes activity of thought and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. He infuses a desire for knowledge.  

He shares the exhilaration of the adventure of ideas. He leads students to the shores of knowledge and encourages them to explore beautiful secrets that lie buried and await discovery.  

He provides intellectual leadership by adding to the fund of knowledge. Through his writings, research and lectures he pushes the horizons of knowledge farther and farther. 

He moulds character. He motivates. He gives courage and faith and builds his students’ confidence in their abilities. He shares his conviction that there is no task beyond our ability. In every impossible there is the possible. With persistence, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary feats.  

He is a surrogate parent and counsellor. He cares for the welfare and the emotional and intellectual health of his wards.  

He encourages self-education. He builds processes but leaves outcomes to the process users. He does not only impart facts, he invites students to assemble facts into fresher combinations.  

He creates an environment in which respectful questioning and criticism is allowed; dialogue is permitted; and introspection and a sharing of doubts and beliefs are encouraged. 

He promotes a holistic view of knowledge and its inter-connectedness with all other fields of human thought. He encourages constructive criticism and reform. He invites students to look at the law as it is, and also as it ought to be. He points out not only what the law says but also what it does.  

He examines not only the law’s content but also its consequences. He invites students to look not only at rules, but also behind them to their political, moral, social and economic aims, and beyond them to their political, moral, social and economic consequences.  

He learns from his wards. He understands the vastness of knowledge and the fact that no one can have monopoly over truth. He understands that differences of views are an aspect of the richness of human thought.  

He treats his students as fellow travellers on the journey of knowledge. He does not speak from the mountain-top. He dwells in the valleys of knowledge and gently ushers his wards up to the mountain top.  

As a law teacher, he seeks to instil the desire for justice. Law is not just a heathen word for power. It is one of the primary, though not the sole, instruments for securing liberty, equality and social justice. Many other winds and waves blow at the shores of society. Law touches them and is touched by them in turn in a relationship that is fascinatingly symbiotic.  

Dr Shad Faruqi is Professor of Law at UiTM 

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