Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown
And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’
In February, 2009, I was driving over the George Washington Bridge into New York City on my way to teach in the South Bronx at PS 114. I had the radio on, listening to a live broadcast by CNN of the International Prayer Breakfast that is held in Washington, D.C. every year. President Obama less than a month into his presidency was speaking. In his speech he said the following: We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Torah commands, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” In Islam, there is a hadith that reads “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth. As I listened to our new president, I smiled with pride, for I was reminded of the truth that resonated in his words: now, more than ever, is the time to unearth empathy, the missing relationship ingredient in so many of our lives. We are all in this together and by consciously seeking a better world for others we can make the world a better place for ourselves. In my briefcase on that day I had a copy of the book “Change We Can Believe In” which contained summaries of what then candidate Obama’s plan was To Renew America’s Promise. I had carried that book with me every day over the last six weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign. Motivated by what I had just heard, I walked into my first class, a group of 5th grade students, and we talked about empathy and the golden rule. We focused upon ways we could put our conversation into action, to make it more than just a bunch of words that sounded good. Midway through the lesson, I held up President Obama’s book in my hand and covered up his name. I showed the students the words and read them aloud: “Change we can believe in.” Then I uncovered his name and they smiled widely at this person who for many of them symbolized hope and optimism.Three months later, President Obama selected Sonia Sotomayor as his choice for Supreme Court nominee. Sotomayor, who grew up in a housing project less than two miles away from PS 114 was chosen in part he said because she fit the “empathy standard” as a judge who could make decisions from her heart. This drew criticism from people who cited the position that emotion should not play a role in court decisions. Emotion is not always seen as rational thinking and rational thinking is the essence of a Justice’s responsibility. Actually, empathy is rational thinking at its best for it underscores the truth that underneath our cloaks of values, religious beliefs, race, nationality and so on, is the truth that we are all humans with beating hearts.