Monday, August 15, 2011

Of Politics, Inservices, And Emapthy

I've been thinking about empathy a lot today.  Teachers in the district spent 6 hours listening to presenters tell us to be responsible for our own attitudes, listen to students, and own our mistakes.  The presenters spent much of the morning reminding teachers that classroom success demands empathy.  In fact, empathy is more important than intellect.

This evening, I came across this Ta-Neshi Coates post about Rick Perry.  Coates writes,
I don't know when people got it in their heads that there's a Wonderlic test for the presidency, but it's a notion that should be done away with immediately.
I'm sure there some level of imbecility which would be too much for Americans, but it seems that the ability to understand and speak to the ambitions of a critical mass of the electorate is much more important. Intelligence might help that effort. But empathy--or at least the ability to communicate empathy--with your audience seems much more important.
I may not be doing what I should to maintain a good attitude, but Coates's use of the term "communicate" troubles me.  Fourth grade teachers have real empathy.  Perry and other politicians seem more Machiavellian.  From chapter 18 of The Prince,
EVERY one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. . . .

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
Machiavelli had this one right.  Success for Perry or any other presidential candidate is not about communicating empathy; it's about appearing to have it even if one doesn't. 

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