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Lessons from the Great Conversation – Cicero Part II

And yet he often desired his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. But the desire of glory has great power in washing the tinctures of philosophy out of the souls of men, and in imprinting the passions of the common people, by custom and conversation, in the minds of those that take a part in governing them, unless the politician be very careful so to engage in public affairs as to interest himself only in the affairs themselves, but not participate in the passions that are consequent to them.

Cicero, on wishing to be remembered as a thinker, not a lawyer; Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD) John Dryden translation.

Despite that Cicero (January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC) was regarded in his day as one of the greatest lawyers and politicians Rome ever produced; he had little desire to be seen in such a way. Cicero saw his skills as a lawyer as a means to an end, not as defining the man he was.

Today’s lawyers increasingly pigeonhole themselves into the trap that Cicero spoke of. Being a lawyer can be a time-consuming process with long hours and dark work that eat into one’s personal life. Eventually it can seem as though being a lawyer is the central defining characteristic of an individual in the practice of law. This is further exacerbated by the monetary rewards, public respect, and admiration from one’s colleagues that lawyers can develop over several years of successful practice.

However, a career should not be one’s defining characteristic; rather it should merely a part of one’s whole being. There is more to life than the practice of law and a lawyer hoping to have a rich life should keep Cicero’s desires on how he wished to be defined in mind.

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