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Allegory Of The Long Spoons

The following is a brief allegory, told from a Jewish perspective. Initially I heard it as a Buddhist lesson. I’m sure there are variations of the tale across many religions, it’s message so universal.

Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:

I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.

Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.

Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.

As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?

As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.

I ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. I whispered in the ear of one starving man, ‘You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.’

‘You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?’ said the man angrily. ‘I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!’

I then understood God’s wisdom in choosing who is worthy to go to Heaven and who deserves to go to Hell.

So much of how we deal with the world simply comes down to perspective. Heaven and hell, the same place and situation, the only difference the attitudes and approach of the people present.

Work is not always going to be perfect. Jobs suck sometimes. If you’re a new lawyer, you’re likely the low man on the totem pole and shit flows downhill. You’re often going to be handed the most menial and uninteresting work. You are going to have to navigate a brand new world of people – judges, opposing counsel, secretaries, paralegals, clerks, runners, clients, insurance companies, collection agencies, billing companies, etc. This list is endless. And they are all going to have their own established methods of communication, their own way of doing things, of which you will know squat. You are going to have to figure out billing systems, memo policies, time keeping systems, local court rules, and more.

Essentially, when starting out as a new lawyer, you are going to be handed a huge steaming plate of stuff you don’t understand. It’s going to be a lot of work to get up to speed and much of it is not inherently exciting or fun. New lawyers face these problems year-in and year-out. The trick is realizing that hating it or enjoying it is largely an internal choice.

Speaking of perspective, there will be a new one here at Associate’s Mind starting Wednesday. We’ll have a new monthly columnist offering thoughts on being a lawyer from a young woman’s point of view. Look for it in a couple of days.

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

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