One day, at one of our law schools, a learned professor walked into a lecture hall ready to address a large assembly of law students.
He looked around.
“You there in the 8th row. Can you tell me your name?” he said, pointing to one student.
“My name is Sandra” she replied.
The professor turned and indicated the exit. “Please leave the hall,” he said. “I don’t want to see you in my lecture.”
Everyone remained quiet, stunned by the unexpected development. The student, although clearly irritated, slowly packed her things and stood up.
“Faster please,” the Professor called to her, impatiently.
Meekly, her head bowed, the female student left the lecture hall.
The professor kept looking around.
The remaining students appeared scared. Some glanced at their friends, uncertain what had happened or whether they too had transgressed in some way and would suffer a similar fate
“Why are there laws?” the Professor said, as the students settled down.
There was no response to the question. Once more, students looked at each other. Some lowered their heads, seemingly concentrating on their note books, desperate not to incur the wrath of this unpredictable tutor.
“What are laws for?” the Professor asked again.
“Social order,” came a tentative voice from the back row
Another brave student spoke up. “To protect a person’s personal rights,.” she called out.
“So that you can rely on the state,” said another voice.
The professor appeared unmoved.
“Justice,” called out a student from the anonymous centre of the assembly.
The professor smiled.
“Thank you very much, ” he said. “Tell me. Did I behave unfairly towards your classmate?”
“Indeed I did,” he continued. “So, why didn’t anyone protest? Why didn’t any of you try to stop me? Why didn’t you want to prevent this injustice?” he demanded.
The Professor smiled again. “What you have just learned, you wouldn’t have understood in a thousand hours of lectures if you hadn’t lived it. Despite the apparent injustice, you didn’t say anything on behalf of your fellow student because you weren’t affected yourself. This attitude speaks against us and against life. People generally think as long as it doesn’t concern them, it’s none of their business. I’m telling you, if you don’t say anything today and don’t bring about justice, then one day you too will experience injustice and no one will stand up for you. Justice doesn’t just exist. We have to fight for it.”
“In life and at work, we often live next to each other instead of with each other. We console ourselves that the problems of others are none of our business. We go home and are glad we were spared. Justice is about standing up for others. Every day an injustice happens somewhere, in public and in private. Relying on someone else to sort it out is not enough. It is our duty to be there for others. Speaking for others when they cannot.”
The Professor then asked the ejected student, who had been party to the his ruse, to return to the lecture hall.
This was a simple lesson, to young lawyers who’s role it would become to speak up for others. There is a lesson here for society, however. It’s one we fail to heed at our peril.