Wanted: Supreme Court Justice. Must be empathetic and understanding.

President Obama is going to appoint a replacement for David Souter, and his number one criterion for a candidate is empathy! When have you ever heard that before? Obama says he’s looking for someone “who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory… It is also about how our laws affect the daily reality of people’s lives.”

This is brilliant–basic and revolutionary at the same time. Just think if every job description included “empathy” as a requirement. CEO’s would empathize with their lowliest employees; teachers would empathize with their students; doctors would empathize with their patients… Of course, this is what good teachers, doctors and even CEO’s do anyway.

Look at Chauncey Veatch, 2002 National Teacher of the Year. He talks about how he felt it was important to be fluent in Spanish and to attend local events, in order to relate to and understand where his students are coming from. This is from the Teacher of the Year Website:

One of Veatch’s migrant students, Luiz Mendoza, describes how well Veatch can relate to such students, saying, “I work with my family around Bakersfield until November. But Mr. Veatch saved me a place in his class and spent hours with me helping me to catch up. He does this for all of his migrant students.” Veatch himself says, “Most of my students come from families of modest economic means, but their parents have the same dreams for them as parents everywhere. To dream is to be filled with hope. I know this because I see the faces of hope daily.”

As for doctors? Consider the studies by Dr. Mohammadreza Hojat of Thomas Jefferson University. This is from the Abstract of his recent article in The Journal of Health and Human Services Administration: “Empathy in the context of clinical care can lead to positive patient outcomes including greater patient satisfaction and compliance… and lower rate of medical errors. Also, health professionals’ well-being is associated with higher empathy.”

So bravo to President Obama for recognizing the importance of having empathy for one’s fellow human beings, in all life circumstances. If all job descriptions included the word “empathy”, what a different–and better–world it would be!