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Empathy in the news

I skim the Washington Post daily to keep up with the world. In the light of former president George HW Bush passing, a headline that caught my eye was “The touching gesture by George H W Bush that his Secret Service ‘ family’ will never forget”.

Former president George H.W. Bush with Patrick, the child of a Secret Service agent, in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 24, 2013. (Barbara Bush/Office of George Bush/AP)

The article had a picture of George H. W. Bush sitting near a flower garden in Kennebunkport, Maine in 2013 holding a 2-year old child. The pair wore matching blue polo shirts and khaki pants and sported the same hairstyle.

Bush had learned that the boy, the son of an agent on his Secret Service detail, had contracted leukemia. The toddler lost his hair and to show their support, members of the detail were planning to shave their heads. The former president followed suit, and his wife Barbara Bush snapped a portrait that immediatly went viral. He explained to his granddaughter Jenna Hager Bush, “Well, why not me ?”. It was the right thing to do. “They are a wonderful group of people”, Bush added at that time. “They’re like family with us”.

Bush’s two firm statements struck a chord with me. They demonstrated the empathy of a great man, showing support for the family, and understanding what they were going through. His magnanimous gesture touched the hearts of his Secret Service detail.

According to the Miriam-Webster, the definition of Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.  George H. W. Bush through this incident did exhibit empathy in an exemplary manner

Empathy is the integral trait of being human, the mark that distinguishes great leaders from good ones, and the bridge that strengthens our connections with our friends, family and, strangers. One of my favorite videos on empathy in our collection is

Rafael Eliassen discusses how to build better relationships and deeper connections with the people around you.

In the above video, Eliassen gives us a stepwise approach towards deepening our relationships. First, you need to actively listen to what the person is saying, and ask open-ended questions on topics that resonate with the other person. We humans can sense authenticity and do reciprocate, thus deepening relationships.