Research shows that more and more Americans are not watching the news, weary of political and racial division, sensational presentation, with networks on both sides of the political fence eager to increase their profit by delivering 24/7 anxiety-inducing dopamine clicks.
So it was at once refreshing and reassuring to last month hear a political figure of good standing speak to our fundamental human values, to our common sense, and to our kindness.
As we are hit daily, left and right, by politicians focussed on their partisan agenda, I’d like to draw your attention to the 43rd Governor of Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker, and his 2023 commencement speech to the graduates of Northwestern University. I was engaged and impressed by his words on evolution, kindness, empathy, and compassion – and his astute advice on the best way to spot an idiot. His speech was delivered with a little help from the wisdom of NBC sitcom The Office – with the show’s star Steve Carell in attendance.
“If you want to be successful in this world, you have to develop your own idiot detection system. The best way to spot an idiot — 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 judgement or both. That’s evolution. We survived as a species by being suspicious of things that we aren’t familiar with. In order to be kind we have to shut down that animal instinct and force our brain 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. This may be a surprising assessment because somewhere along the way, in the last few years, our society has come to believe that weaponized cruelty is part of some well thought out masterplan. 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. 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. They 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 will lack 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 kindness person in the room is often the smartest.” — Governor J.B. Pritzker
We are all exhausted by a news cycle that does little to celebrate the ever-present continuum of kindness and caring that naturally — and by necessity, perhaps — remains flowing at most levels of society. But I see people exercise these virtues every day. Small gestures of kindness, that can brighten a stranger, a friend, a family member or acquaintances day. Decorous and warm acts of civility can go far, adding much to the fabric of a society that’s fundamental need is to survive, belong and thrive.
These last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself visiting my local gas station, to fill the tank and because they have excellent coffee at half the price of Starbucks. What I’ve observed is the way the Latino workers, each morning, greet one another with good manners, warmth, and a geniality that reminds me of the simple respect and decency that I grew up around during my formative years in a village in Yorkshire, England. It’s a breath of fresh air that I assumed would be abundant in this life, but in recent years seems in limited supply amongst certain sections of society.
So Governor J.B. Pritzker, I’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate you as a great leader; a man of value, principle, and of kindness.
Thank you for the reminder, thank you for the inspiration.
Exercise kindness, I guarantee you’ll feel good!