Holding Hands with Neal Katyal
What My Teacher Taught Me

Let me be honest. Failure isn’t enjoyable. There I was, irritated as all hell. After failing several dozen times, I remember what Bobby Kennedy said, “Hang a lantern on your problems.” So, I googled looking for a solution. I wound up at TED and watched Neal Katyal’s video, How to Win an Argument (at the US Supreme Court or anywhere).

The complete lecture is at the end of this article.

The complete lecture is at the end of this article.

I spent more time on my yellow brick road as a professor during my eight-decade journey down my yellow brick road than as a student. Nonetheless, this essay relates to my being Neal Katyal’s student this past week.

I never allowed students to call me Dr. or Professor Campbell when I taught. My name is Al. Hence, I’m following that mindset. Neal started his lecture by addressing the use of empathy rather than arguing your case before the Supreme Court or anywhere in life. The following is a synopsis of what I learned from Neal. The first part is the essay, which I am sharing with you. However, the second part is a video that I made for him. Neal is the only one that has access to that video.

Neal began by asserting that making your case in life is about empathy. He downplayed arguing your case. Neal learned that from a professor who wasn’t even a lawyer. His teacher said to Neal that he wanted him to hold his hand. In that manner, empathy is more effective than debating an issue. Therefore, in my video, I told Neal that over a decade ago, I went to Myanmar to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, often referred to as the Lady. I didn’t even close to reaching that goal.

Nevertheless, I had personal tour guides during my journey in what used to be called Burma. At each place I visited, someone picked me up at the hotel in a car, which had a tour guide. The driver would take the guide and me to a place of interest and then return several hours later and drive us to lunch. Then we went to another tourist site in the afternoon. When visiting various places in the tourist triangle, I was near Inle Lake, and my guide was Moh Moh. After taking a boat on the lake, Moh Moh wanted to stop at her home to pick up my itinerary after I left Inle Lake. Moh Moh said that I could meet her daughter, Ti Ti, who was home on winter break from school.

We walked into their living room to be welcomed by her nine-year-old daughter. “Hi, my name is Ti Ti. Do you want to play some games?” We played for forty-five minutes, talked about all sorts of things, and laughed as we played Scrabble. I left their home, realizing I had met a young lady, my granddaughter. Ti Ti and her two younger siblings and parents were a part of my family. Talk about a life-changing event.

Ti Ti is now nineteen and is studying at Gusto University in Yangon. A couple of years ago, her parents tried to get diversity visas for the family in the yearly lottery at the State Department in Washington, DC. They weren’t fortunate enough to get the visas. I suggested to her parents that she could come to America, live with me, and go to college in the States. They told Ti Ti about my offer, and she was excited.

It should be noted that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a driving force in Ti Ti’s life. Ti Ti wants to continue her mentor’s work at making Myanmar a better place in which to live. Getting a college education in States would help her as it did for Aung San Suu Kyi, who went to India and England to college and graduate school before returning home to Myanmar.

However, I need to assist Ti Ti needs help getting a student visa. As I said at the beginning of this essay, I hate failure. Therefore, one of my mentors, Don Quixote, said he would “be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.” That resonates with me.

Neal can give me some ideas. I have already tried to have ProPublica and an NBC television host assist me, but I haven’t been able to contact them directly. I’ll continue to try with them, but I believe Neal will jump to assist me.

So, this is my personal story about trying to help my granddaughter. This article is a metaphor for all my readers. When you get stopped by seemingly impossible roadblocks on your journey down your yellow brick road of life, remember Bobby Kennedy’s suggestion, “Hang a lantern on your problems.”


This is Neal’s lecture on TED.