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November 08, 2023 Feature

I Learned This from Professor Mandelker

Dwight Merriam

Have you read Dan Mandelker’s curriculum vitae (CV)? If you intend to do that, get yourself a comfortable chair and be ready to spend some considerable time perusing the seventeen-page, single-spaced most recent summary. I say “summary” because the CV does not list all his work. The list of articles, labeled “partial,” spans five pages.

I count twenty-seven books. Then there is a list of chapters in books and monographs. And seven monographs. In his CV, you will see the many times he has testified before Congress and the numerous editorial boards on which he has served. There in his CV you will find listed his numerous speeches, forty or so of his memberships in professional organizations and activities, and seventy-one “major” consultations, spanning the globe from Melbourne, Australia, to Tupelo / Lee County, Mississippi, on such widely varied subjects as the controversial Cape Wind project proposed off Nantucket to planning for light-rail transit stations in Portland, Oregon.

Those consultations and Dan’s extensive contributions, particularly through the American Planning Association, to the day-to-day work of planning and land-use regulation are proof positive that Dan is in that exceptional minority of academics who somehow manage to not only maintain the highest levels of intellectual pursuit in their formal scholarship but who are also ready, willing, and able—and, in Dan’s case, eager—to translate the esoteric into the practical.

He reminds me of the interlocutors that Shakespeare and others in Elizabethan theater used as intermediaries between the actors and the audience, telling the audience what they needed to know to understand the performance and to presage where the plot would take them. Think of the actors as the academics, with their opaque but potentially useful insights, and the audience as the workaday land-use lawyers and planners, trying to take it all in and make use of it, and Dan standing right there in the middle, the land-use law interlocutor with his nonpareil gift of being able to translate the obscure into the accessible. I know of no one with a greater body of work and contributions to land-use law.

I have read Dan’s work, not all of it by a long shot, and I have learned much from it. But what I learned from Dan, which has shaped my life as land-use lawyer, cannot be found anywhere in his CV. It is not in a book or article or chapter or speech or any of those innumerable ways in which he has influenced so many.

The greatest thing I learned from Dan is how important it is for each and every one of us to mentor others, to reach out and initiate contact, and to actively seek to give counsel and support. He did that with me, around the time I graduated from law school and had published an article on transferable development rights. He was twenty years my senior, and I had never met him or communicated with him, but he reached out to me. And he became my mentor for these nearly fifty years since.

Dan has done the same with so many others. I learned from him, though he never said it, that it is our obligation to be mentors, that we must recognize that others want and need and will benefit by our guidance, that we further our collective intellectual and practice development by being mentors, that mentoring is not a zero-sum game, that we lose nothing and we gain much when we mentor others, that an important part of our legacy will be found in the hearts and minds of those we serve as mentors, and that, fundamentally, mentoring is catalytic; it makes things happen that otherwise would not.

Prof. Nicholas Epley is the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavior Science and Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.1 He and his team have done years of research on the tendency of people to be antisocial, to believe that others do not want to interact. These researchers found that people do want to engage with others far more than we imagine. None of us should be reluctant to reach out and offer ourselves up as mentors. Dan did that for me.

The term today that encompasses mentoring and more is “pay it forward.” The concept is found in ancient Greek Comedies.2

Benjamin Franklin described it a letter to Benjamin Webb:

Dear Sir Passy, April 22d. 1784

I received your’s of the 15th. Instant, and the Memorial it inclosed. The account they give of your situation grieves me. I send you herewith a Bill for Ten Louis d’ors. I do not pretend to give such a Sum. I only lend it to you. When you shall return to your Country with a good Character, you cannot fail of getting into some Business that will in time enable you to pay all your Debts: In that Case, when you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoyning him to discharge the Debt by a like operation when he shall be able and shall meet with such another opportunity.— I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a Trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. I am not rich enough to afford much in good works and so am obliged to be cunning and make the most of a little.— With best wishes for the success of your Memorial and your future prosperity, I am, Dear Sir, Your most obdt. Servt.

B. F.

Please to present my affectionate Respects to Mr. & Madam Pigot.—

Mr. Benjn. Webb. 3

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his 1841 essay “Compensations,” offers:

In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and worm worms. Pay it away quickly in some sort.4

Lily Hardy first used the phrase in her 1916 novel In the Garden of Delight when she wrote: “I never repaid Great-aunt Letitia’s love to her, any more than she repaid her mother’s. You don’t pay love back, you pay it forward.”5 “Pay it forward” was popularized, to the point where it may be a cliché today, in Catherine Ryan Hyde’s 1999 novel Pay It Forward and in the film by the same name, which was released a year later. And even the legendary football coach Woody Hayes, who considered Ralph Waldo Emerson one of his favorite essayists, adopted the concept as his mantra: “You can never pay back. So you should always try to pay forward.”6 He meant it, and he lived it.

I cannot repay Dan for all he has done for me, but I can pay it forward by helping others going forward. So can you, so should you.

It is more than that, however. Being a good mentor also includes helping those you mentor to become mentors themselves. As one study of mentoring revealed: “Participants also observed that the role of a mentor was to role model good mentorship so mentees could learn how to be good mentors.”7 That is what I learned from Dan, and that has enriched life in a way no one else has. We honor Dan when we follow his example.


1. David Brooks, Why Your Social Life Is Not What It Should Be, N.Y. Times (Aug. 25, 2022),; see also David Sax, When Strangers Are Good for Us, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2022),; Nicholas Eply et al., Undersocialty: Miscalibrated Social Cognition Can Inhibit Social Connection, 26 Trends Cognitive Sci. P406 (2022); Michael Kardas et al., Overly Shallow?: Miscalibrated Expectations Create a Barrier to Deeper Conversation, 122 J. Personality & Soc. Psych. 367 (2022).

2. Menander, The Grouch (aka Dyskolos, The Difficult Man) (George Theodoridis trans., 2013), (philanthropic acts leading to goodness).

3. Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Benjamin Webb (Apr. 22, 1784),

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation, in Essays, First Series (1841),

5. Lily Hardy Hammond, In the Garden of Delight 209 (Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1916),

6. Bob Greene, You Can Always Pay Forward, Chi. Trib. (Jan. 3, 1995),

7. Sharon Straus et al., Issues in the Mentor-Mentee Relationship in Academic Medicine: A Qualitative Study, 84 Acad. Med. 137 (2009).

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Dwight Merriam, FAICP, a lawyer and land-use planner, is a Fellow in the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, a Fellow and Past President and of the American Institute of Certified Planners, Past Chair of the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, a Counselor of Real Estate, and the Connecticut member of Owners’ Counsel of America. Dwight taught for forty years as an adjunct professor in several law schools. He has published over 200 articles and 13 books, including co-authoring the casebook, Planning and Control of Land Development, and co-editing the treatise Rathkopf’s The Law of Zoning and Planning with Professor Sara Bronin. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) (1968) from the University of Massachusetts, a Masters of Regional Planning (1974) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School (1978).