Really Good Judges Are Not Afraid of Empathy

When President Bush announced the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, he said that Clarence Thomas was a person who had empathy.  Since then, the term “empathy” in the context of judicial nominees has come under a lot of attack.  But, why?  Properly understood and applied, isn’t the value of empathy something all good judges should have?

The Huffington Post has an interesting article about empathy.  It begins:

“When public policies go into effect, they don’t always seem rooted in empathy and compassion. That’s one reason an educator at the University of San Francisco is making the humanities central to a class she teaches to future public administrators.

According to Kimberly Connor, the director of Interdisciplinary Studies at the university’s Department of Public and Nonprofit Administration, the best way to instill empathy in developing leaders is to not give them a one-size-fits-all blueprint, but rather share a variety of world perspectives and let them resonate naturally. Harnessing the power of the humanities, she includes only one general ethics text in her Leadership Ethics course syllabus, and surrounds it with a variety of classic literature, poetry, comedic videos and even slave narratives. This might seem like an unusual approach to teaching young professionals how to become more empathetic managers, but she says that she is simply teaching what she knows best.

“I’m trained in religious studies — not in management,” Connor told The Huffington Post. Originally hired to help working adult students make the transition to graduate school, she was asked to start teaching the course four years ago, and has found it an opportunity to apply her humanities background.

“Rather than fill up my class with stuff I wasn’t terribly familiar with, I used literary text to prompt my students’ thoughts around moral conduct and creative ways to work at problem solving,” she said. “I wanted them to learn how to tolerate ambiguity, to understand that in order to be moral agents in the world, we’re constantly having to self-interrogate and understand that things are not black and white. We live in a world of many contingencies, especially for people who are public administrators and obliged to so many people in different sectors. They serve the public, but that’s a very abstract obligation.”

One of the first texts explored in Connor’s class is Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, a 19th century autobiographical slave narrative that explores how Washington, born a slave, adapted to the changing world around him, and then created opportunities for others to follow in his footsteps. Without fail, it inspires the students to think beyond themselves and consider the ways they can inspire cooperation, collaboration and social change within their communities”


For the full story, go here.

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