Historian Will Durant wrote in one of his books about “the few” who he said delight in thinking and understanding, “who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battlefield to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth.” “These are the people” he wrote, “who stand aside unused by the world.”
How perplexing that so often it is thinking people, gentle souls, soft spoken individuals, people of spiritual depth, unprofaned, compassionate to a fault, who “stand aside unused by the world.”
I know these people. I have met them over the years. I have worked with them. They have been neighbors. They have been amazing friends. They live in quiet, modest homes, warm with welcome, blanketed with love.
They are not famous. They have no massive assets. They do not run big companies. Their impact is not in power, or financial resources, or social influence. They do not manipulate others. People are not cowered by their presence. They radiate humility, not arrogance. They display authenticity, not feigned importance.
And yet, in the complicated workings of government, religion, social justice, policing, the courts, the university presidency, the corporate board room, the agency CEO, and elsewhere, society almost always tends to dismiss those who delight in thinking and understanding, the self-effacing, the soft-spoken person discreet with dignity and honor.
Instead, society goes for the assertive, the brassy, the domineering; the person and people who plow through others on their way to whatever ambition consumes them.
In the Amazon Prime Television series, “Suits,” now in its sixth season, we see the struggle between these differences in people. In a large Manhattan law firm, senior partner Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) brings in college dropout, Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams). Ross, who never made it to law school, nevertheless presents himself to the firm as a young attorney.
Harvey Specter, handsome, brilliant and urbane, a Harvard law grad, is about winning. And about himself. Mike Ross, a whiz kid in law with a photographic memory, is still in possession of a conscience and struggles with his own secret lie and the often ruthlessness and savagery of the attorneys in expensive suits, especially the odious Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), a shady and diabolical partner in the firm.
Specter is unapologetic in his arrogance. His reputation is solid. He’s a closer. He gets the job done. The client is everything. Whatever it takes to win, he will use it. Ross on the other hand, carries that conscience of his around, more of a light than a fire. Justice is more important to him than winning. For him, doing what is right, what is humane, transcends doing what wins the case.
In his first mock trial, Mike Ross puts aside his compassion and goes for the kill. He has the witness rattled and in actual tears even though she’s a paralegal and knows it’s just a practice trial. But then at the last minute Ross backs off, hesitates, and ends his questioning only to lose the case.
Harvey’s motto is: “Sometimes good guys gotta do bad things to make the bad guys pay.” And, it usually works. While Harvey Specter is finding every loophole and deftly getting around ages old legal precepts and Constitutional edicts, Mike Ross is searching his soul. He represents those “who stand aside unused by the world.”
Harvey mentors Mike in the harsh intricacies of the law; Mike softens Harvey with intelligence, wit, and feelings for others.
The series helps us explore the larger world in which we all live where the struggle to be human is often tested daily. We learn that winning is important and has its rewards. But at what cost to our own sense of decency, self-worth, and compassion for others. Will cockiness always be society’s first choice, or can the gentle power their way to usefulness as well?
That’s a struggle worthy of our lives.
© 2017 Timothy Moody