Feeling unmoored? We are tribal beings, having evolved from small, hunter-gatherer bands. Our brains developed uniquely to participate in complex social relationships to care for the members of our tribe and ensure each other’s mutual survival.
Yet today, modern life can be isolating. Who is our tribe? Certainly members of our own families. Our tribe of friends may be large but far-flung and frequently accessed via social media networks instead of face-to-face quality time. Our neighbors may be mere strangers.
Enter the power of associations — professional, political, neighborhood or otherwise — to create social ties that are often missing from day-to-day life. Associations make possible new connections that may be less binding than the ties of family and close friends, but nonetheless are grounded in a common interest and purpose.
Alexis de Tocqueville, while traveling through North American communities that were springing up on the prairies and in the forests, noted the unique associational nature of American life:
Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have … associations of a thousand kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons and schools.
De Tocqueville recognized that associations were central to American democracy. While voting, he observed, signifies giving power away to a delegated representative, associations are a means to create communal power, by joining together and deciding as a community what needs doing and how it shall be done. The association becomes a tool to allow its members to produce the future they envision.1
I posit to you that this sense of empowerment, of creating a community together and strengthening our social fabric, is central to the human experience and our happiness. We are adrift in its absence. And that is why I suggest to you that joining an association like the King County Bar Association, or the Young Lawyers Division (YLD), or really any other association, can make you 10-percent happier. Associations can help us make a satisfying life of our own choosing.
For those of you looking for community, here is the YLD. Our members are in their first five years of practice or age 36 or younger (whichever occurs later). We aim to help new attorneys navigate the beginning of their professional lives. We help our members build core competencies by hosting monthly CLEs and workshops. We create social bonds through monthly happy hours and group events. We give back to the community by providing legal services at our free walk-in clinic. We clean up parks together and feed the hungry.
There is also more we can do to increase our collective happiness. First, the YLD needs the association of those of you who no longer qualify as a new or young attorney. You are still an essential part of our community and we welcome your interest in our members. In particular, if you are interested in being a mentor to a new attorney or otherwise supporting the efforts of the YLD, I invite you to email me personally so we can make it happen.
Second, the YLD needs the continued vitality and involvement of new and young attorneys. If that’s you, we hope you come out to one of our events to meet others like you who have the same interests and concerns. We want to help you create a community that will stay with you for your professional career. We also invite you to help us determine what else the YLD can do and how it should be done. Our association is for you.
At a time when our country feels divided, my sincere hope and belief is that the power of associations can help bring us together and create meaningful connections through shared purpose — a modern-day tribe, if you will.
Stephanie Lakinski is chair of the Young Lawyers Division. She is an associate at Karr Tuttle Campbell and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 See McKnight & Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010).
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