Peter Fam, the 357th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, has a keen sense of right and wrong, and the power of flawed systems to corrupt good people.
Peter owns a law firm, Maat’s Method, that specialises in human rights law. He represents clients against the government, the police and big business, in cases involving issues like discrimination, abuse of power and violations of privacy. During the pandemic, for example, he was very active fighting for the interests of clients who opposed vaccine mandates.
To the best of Peter’s knowledge, Maat’s Method is the only human rights law firm in Australia that doesn’t accept government funding. Peter’s concern is not that government funding is necessarily bad, but that it might insidiously compromise his independence.
This comes at a cost, both financially and emotionally. Many of Peter’s clients can’t afford to pay for his services, or at least not the full fee, which means much of his work is pro bono. That makes it hard for Maat’s Method to remain solvent, which naturally causes stress and anxiety for Peter.
But that’s better than the alternative, as far as Peter is concerned. There were times in his career when he chose the easy path over the right path, and that ultimately triggered depression.
Peter feels that many of our systems – such as our political system, legal system and educational system – are fundamentally flawed, because they force people to act in ways that are contrary to the laws of nature. If we’re not careful, a big gap can emerge between our principles and actions, through one small compromise at a time. That’s how good people end up doing bad things.
I greatly admire Peter’s integrity. Most of us choose the path of least resistance, because we’re good at rationalising bad behaviour; Peter, though, tries hard to resist this kind of self-deception, even if, as he acknowledges, he doesn’t always succeed.