So, poor me, I was rejected as a kid when I wanted so desperately to belong to a fraternity. I was rejected from the legal fraternity when I failed the bar. How about when I ran for Congress, and after that, when I tried to get a job as a law professor, and later, when I wanted to become a judge and was rejected for both of these positions by the structure in power?
I have never thought about this in this way before – but all of these were, in fact, clubs: the fraternity, a club to be sure, the congressional and academic brotherhoods, and the political club that governs the judiciary. You did not belong to the club, Mr. Spence. You were an outsider. You were not to be trusted, because you did not belong and we will not have you.
The result of not belonging has given me the greatest gift – the gift of rejection which demanded that I discover ways to be useful without belonging to the club. I began the long inquiry into the self. Who is this person, Gerry Spence? What, if anything does he have to offer? If I belonged to the club, any club, that club would set its rules and standards and make its judgments – for me.
By being rejected I became acquainted with the pain of the common man who also is not a member. I learned to care. I learned something about enduring loneliness. I learned to speak the language of the people and to feel the pain of powerlessness. I sought associations with those who were creative – artists of various sorts, individuals who had something to offer because they were, themselves, pariahs and had experiences in living that the club members could never have. That included mountain climbers, tramps, social outcasts, and beautiful people who lived quiet, gentle lives and were successful mothers and fathers and knew a great deal about love.
I attribute any important successes I may have enjoyed in my life to rejection. If I had become a frat kid I would likely have developed skills that would have led me in a different direction. I would have enjoyed golf and golfers and would have associated with a lot of bankers and business sorts.
Had I been elected to Congress I would have been ruined as a human being. Had I gone to the University as a professor I would have stagnated in academia, or gotten into a lot of trouble. The Dean was wise in not hiring me. I wouldn’t have lasted as a judge. I would have little patience for the phony, the incompetent, the cruel. I would not have had enough respect for precedent or for the rule of law when these came slamming up against justice as they often do.
Rejection has been the greatest of all gifts I have received. The power structure has it own wisdom. I would not have been a good club member.
On the other hand, the power structure freed me to take them on. Had I been a member of the club I would never have been free to fight for certain of the causes that have defined me. As a result of these gifts over fifteen years ago I started Trial Lawyers’ College to teach lawyers how to beat the power structure, to win against large corporations and against the enslavement and injustices of government. I tip my hat to the power structure. You have given me much. I have tried to give much in return, even when it includes the chance to beat you.