Tag Archives: Dreams from My Father

Empathy; According to Barack Obama

Regardless of your politics, I think we can all learn from this.  This is taken from pp 80-81 of his book –  The Audacity of Hope.

“…it was in my relationship with my grandfather that I think I internalized the full meaning of empathy.  Because my mother’s work took her overseas, I often lived with my grandparents during my high school years, and without a father present in the house, my grandfather bore the brunt of much of my adolescent rebellion.  He himself was not always easy to get along with; he was at once warmhearted and quick to anger, and in part because his career had not been particularly successful, his feelings could also be easily bruised.  By the time  I was sixteen we were arguing all the time, usually about me failing to abide by what I considered to be an endless series of petty and arbitrary rules – filling up the gas tank whenever I borrowed his car, say, or making sure that I rinsed out the milk carton before I put it in the garbage.

With a certain talent for rhetoric, as well as an absolute certainty about the merits of my own views, I found that I could generally win these arguments, in the narrow sense of leaving my grandfather flustered, angry, and sounding unreasonable.  But at some point, perhaps in my senior year, such victories started to feel less satisfying.  I started thinking about the struggles and disappointments he had seen in his life.  I started to appreciate his need to feel respected in his own home.  I realized that abiding by his rules would cost me little, but to him it would mean a lot.  I recognized that sometimes he really did have a point, and that in insisting on getting my own way all the time, without regard to his feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.”

Authors note:  Being right is only half the battle, sometimes less.  If we learn to care about those around us and truly strive to do the next right thing, we all win.  It is easy, and often a very hollow feeling, to bully through an argument or confrontation only to find that the matter could have far more easily been addressed with cooperation and loving-kindness.  Of this I have been guilty far too often.  Thank you for reminding me, Mr. President.


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