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Nichols: We all carry our turtle shells with us
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During congressional hearings concerning Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we had an interesting exchange of ideas over lunch. Two of my friends were very concerned that Sotomayor might rule in future cases based upon her personal values and not the law itself. That is a valid concern. After all, justice is supposed to be blind.

I thought her position was wrong concerning the reverse discrimination of the white firemen in Connecticut who did well on a test for promotion but were refused that promotion. The test was thrown out because minority candidates did poorly and racial balance would have been disturbed by giving promotions only to the white firemen who scored well.

Discrimination in any form denies Constitutional grant of equality for all Americans, I believe.

However I argued that her background as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York State had given her excellent qualifications to serve as a Supreme Court justice. I also thought that on the plus side was her ethnic heritage from Puerto Rico and her being a female. Her Princeton and Yale Law School degrees also impressed me (since I am a former academic).

For a long time, I have felt that we needed more women in the legal profession. As a political science teacher, I had many majors in our pre-law program. At the beginning of my 38 years in the classroom, women interested in a legal career were few. Now many law schools have at least 50 percent and more students who are female.

I have taught many classes with mixed men and women, some classes that were all female, and some that were all male. Each class had a unique chemistry of its own. I came to the conclusion that nobody thinks exactly like another person, and that in general men and women do not reason exactly alike. I think we need variety of opinions, especially on the Supreme Court.

Diversity gives us the possibility of not wasting any brain power because of discrimination.

I have a unique view of the human condition. I see each human being as a psychological form of a turtle. Turtles live inside their shells, taking their houses with them wherever they go. And, thus protected, they generally live long lives.

Human beings all live inside our own history. We start with the body and brain that God and our parents give us.

Last year, I had two cataracts removed about four months apart. The new lens implanted to replace the old one gave me a surprise. I have been a photographer taking color pictures since I turned 19 in Japan. I thought I saw colors accurately.

With one eye new and one old, I could note that the old colors I thought I had been photographing were really tinted yellow. Later with both cataracts removed, I see much more clearly. Before the two operations, I saw the world incorrectly and did not even know it.

I remember cheating on a spelling test in the third grade. I wrote the words we were supposed to learn how to spell on a piece of paper that I put on the seat between my legs. I looked down to copy the words and got caught. The teacher took my test paper and tore it into many tiny pieces and threw it in the air.

To this day, I never see snow falling anywhere that does not remind me not to cheat ever again. And so I never did.

I think age, your sex, your friends, your religion, peer pressure and cultural values all make memories that we hang on the inside of our shells, through which we see the events of life differently.

When President Barack Obama criticized the Cambridge, Mass., policeman's arrest of a black Harvard professor in his own home, he most likely was reacting from some of his own and his friends' personal experiences with police in the various communities in which he lived. Although it is not fully recognized, racial profiling does hide beneath the surface of many American lives, both black and white.

I hope you can forgive me, but when I look at you, I see a turtle. I was born one block form a lake in central Florida. Occasionally turtles appeared in our yard, but they were smaller than the ocean types. All had shells. So do all human beings.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly and on

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