He Cares

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? You likely hope it’s no different from what they say to your face.

Last week my son, Brian, sent me a video that caused me to think about the kind of person I am, and the kind of person others say I am when I’m not in the room.  

This video is a short excerpt from a commencement speech given last year by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to the graduating class at Northwestern University. 

He starts by saying, “The best way to spot an idiot?” Bold. Edgy. Needless to say, that statement got my attention.

He went on to say…

“Look for the person who is cruel. Let me explain…

When we see someone who doesn’t look like us or sound like us or act like us or love like us or live like us, the first thought that crosses almost everyone’s brain is rooted in either fear, or judgment, or both. 

That’s evolution. 

We survived as a species by being suspicious of things we are not familiar with. But in order to be kind we have to shut down that animal instinct and force our brains to travel a different pathway. 

Empathy and compassion are evolved states of being. They require the mental capacity to step past our most primal urges. 

Cruelty is seen by some as an adroit cudgel to gain power. Empathy and kindness are considered weak. Many important people look at the vulnerable only as rungs on a ladder to the top. 

But I’m here to tell you that when someone’s path through this world is marked with acts of cruelty, they have failed the first test of an advanced society. 

That person never forced their animal brain to evolve past its first instinct. They never forged new mental pathways to overcome their own instinctual fears.

And so, their thinking and problem-solving lacks the imagination and creativity that the kindest people have in spades.

Over my many years in politics and business I have found one thing to be universally true…

The kindest person in the room is often the smartest.”

That excerpt is only two minutes of a 21-minute extraordinary presentation.

Adding a smidgeon of humor to the mix, Governor Pritzker peppered in a few quotes from the hit comedy show, The Office, because Steve Carell and his wife, Nancy, were in attendance to see their daughter graduate.

Quoting one of the characters, Dwight, he ended his speech by saying, “You only live once? False. You live every day. You only die once.”

But putting humor aside, the core message about kindness and caring probably cannot be overstated. If we lack kindness, if we don’t care about others, what could redeem us?

In the words of the Dalai Lama…
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

In the words of Franklin D Roosevelt… “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

It’s okay to play hard. It’s okay to strive to win. But you don’t have to be mean when doing it. 

What do people say about me when I’m not in the room? Maybe it’s best I don’t know… but I’ve done okay if at least it includes: “He cares.”