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  • Tom Birchard

Post-Election Thoughts on Empathy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware of the US Presidential Election that occurred less than 2 weeks ago. You likely have your own thoughts on the outcome and have also heard passionate, convicted people on both sides of the political spectrum arguing their viewpoints. One thing that has seemed to be missing from much of this dialogue, at least from my observation, is empathy and an attempt to really understand the perspective from the other side. This will be a brief blog post, but I’ve been reading a book called “Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models” by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann, and it touches on a couple concepts that I think can be helpful in showing empathy not only related to the election, but in many other areas of life as well.


The first of these is referred to as the “third story”. The idea is pretty simple, in any conflict or disagreement you have with someone else, take a few moments to imagine how an impartial observer would describe interaction. I’ve found this to be a helpful reframe and since reading about it, I’ve used it not only in interactions I’ve personally had, but also in coaching members of my team who come to me for input after a frustrating conversation with a coworker.


Another related framework is called Hanlon’s razor which says “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness.” I’ve found this to be especially important in the current environment with COVID-19. With fewer in-person interactions and an increased sense of isolation, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking someone or some group is out to get you. While this is possible, I’ve found it rarely to be the case as most people want to do good and Hanlon’s razor would suggest the same.


Just this week I was getting frustrated with someone at work only to realize one of their parents was dying and this was certainly impacting their focus and actions. This was a stark reminder to show empathy and to give people the benefit of the doubt as you can’t possibly know what they are experiencing, thinking, or feeling at any given point in time. Remember the “third story” and Hanlon’s razor as you go into the following week, I hope everyone is safe and healthy and enjoying this autumn weather!

Recommendations from last two weeks:


· TV ShowThe Queen's Gambit – This is a Netflix miniseries with just 7 episodes and simply put it is excellent. It is about a young girl with a special talent in chess who also struggles with addiction. I won’t ruin it with any more details but I highly recommend checking it out, I don’t think you’ll regret it


· Podcast Episode – Brent Beshore on The Circle of Competence Podcast – I’ve listened to a few interviews with Brent and this is one of my favorites. The primary topic is small business acquisition but he also gets pretty deep into his faith which I found captivating. Near the end of the episode he makes some comments around being personally reliable in all areas of life which resonated with me in how I try to live my life


· Book The Body: A Guide for Occupants – by Bill Bryson – So I haven’t finished this book yet so the recommendation might be a little premature. Nonetheless I’ve found this book to be both highly entertaining but also very educational. Bryson takes the reader through countless fascinating facts about the human body, stories of how discoveries were made, all the while interjecting humor that makes it an enjoyable read. With all the technological progress that has been made it is wild to think of all the nuance within the human body that we don’t fully understand yet or can’t recreate ourselves. The author approaches the topic with more of an evolutionary perspective but whatever your beliefs, I think you’ll be able to appreciate this book


· QuoteAll businesses are loosely functioning disasters, and some are profitable despite it. At 30,000 feet, the world is beautiful and orderly. On the ground it’s chaotic and confusing. by Brent Beshore



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