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Native Kentuckian Abraham Lincoln has always been my favorite president. I have read countless books and articles about his universal empathy. Lincoln demonstrated time and time again “a singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation or bitterness.”
Emulating Lincoln’s magnanimous empathy is not easy. The key to developing the same open-mindedness in ourselves is to start small.
If people make you angry, instead of immediately spouting off, put yourself in their shoes.
Why are they behaving the way they are?
What do they want or need that they may not be getting? By taking a moment to step back and assess the situation with coolness and clarity, you’ll attain a greater understanding of what’s really going on and have better control over your reactions.
Empathy is a trait that can take a lifetime to master. Great and good people accept not only their own faults and foibles but those of humanity in general.
They see beyond their own communities and countries and some, notably the artists and scientists, even see and empathize with those other than the human species.
Now, in the twenty-first century, there are plenty of people who think globally when it comes to conservation, political corruption and spiritual harmony. But this kind of universal empathy is not new.
The good among the great have been doing this since the beginning of time. They put themselves under a higher authority. They are strong and capable and calm when they need to be. They could run roughshod over most people in their path, but they don’t.
They play fair. They respect others as well as their own elevated ethics. They answer to something higher than themselves. They avoid the great sin of pride in themselves.
To a certain degree, the good among the great business leaders see themselves as being in service to their customers, their boards of directors, and even their colleagues and employees.
Of course, each has his or her own individual reasons for working as hard and as humbly as he or she does.
All I know is that doing so serves each and every one of them well. Their sense of service helps them achieve their goals, and they know it.
It certainly makes their successes long lived. It certainly makes their achievements broad as well as deep. Perhaps most of all, it keeps them within a respecting, even loving, network of supporters.
Human beings are incredibly social creatures. It never fails to amaze me when I walk on an expansive beach. I see that most people will plop down within a few feet of someone else. Most people also choose to live in cities. We rely on each other. Those who choose to live in the countryside know this all too well.
We are grateful for good neighbors. We know how tough it can be if the electricity goes out or a 20-pound raccoon won’t leave your kitchen.
The good among the great know how tough life is and how important we are to each other.
So despite their great talents and insight, they humble themselves before humankind and their gods.
It’s also good to remember that the world today has become a smaller, dirtier, more dangerous place and that our differences grow pale compared to our common motivations, interests and instincts. All things are connected.
Surround yourself with people who genuinely care about others. And don’t stop there.
In your own life, take strides large and small to be someone who thinks of others, who thinks as others do.
It will not only win you friends and allies, but broaden your understanding of the world and maybe even help you see the next great business opportunity.
When you empathize you see the world from a limitless number of perspectives, giving you greater knowledge and understanding.
Being sensitive to others is not a sign of weakness but a sign of awareness, which is strength.
Find commonalities with all human beings, even your rivals and enemies. Doing so will give you greater understanding and humble you.
Bob Mueller is the assistant vice president of mission & stewardship at Hopsarus. The views in this column are those of the writer.