Empathy is the best policy

The Atlantic Monthly chronicle of the long-term effects of unemployment demonstrates why empathy matters in policy.

Not hiring...seriously

Losing your job impacts more than just your income. Don Peck’s How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America lays this out in an expansive piece that looks at how joblessness wreaks havoc on people’s psyche, their relationships, and culture overall.

Defining and understanding a Depression requires more than economics; it requires empathy. Empathy is neither a progressive nor conservative trait. We all demonstrate it in different ways and in different circumstances. Empathy’s universality makes it something we can organize around and build upon.

Empathy is oft forgotten when policy remedies to crises are being considered. Policy is inherently mechanical and pedantic. But the way we frame policy debates does not have to be. Understanding the people impacted must be a the forefront of our politics.

Take, for example, today’s un[der]employment disaster. The debate on what to do about it has withered down to whether increasing the deficit is warranted. There is not a less human way to talk about this human catastrophe than that. Tell that to the recent college graduates that Peck writes about who will earn significantly less money over their careers because they were born in the wrong year and will be more likely to develop drinking, drug, and marital problems. They hear “deficit” and think “doesn’t matter.”

What matters is the broken promise made to them that if they worked hard and got a degree that they’d have a job. What matters is the lack of personal and collective responsibility that threw their professional trajectory off course. What matters is the steely feeling of student loan debt jammed into the back of their minds like a gun during a stickup. Using this, we should instead be debating how to get students the jobs they’ve been educated for and everyone the jobs they’ve trained for.

This principle should inform all of our work: enable people to build and pursue their talents and use them for the benefit of themselves and society. Applying this value to this and other debates sets the table for a progressive future on all fronts. Some examples:

  • Health care: Fear of sickness or injury must not deter hopeful and ambitious people; give them the protection they deserve.
  • Education: Properly equip public educational infrastructure with well-compensated teachers and staff, well-designed curricula and tools, and well-implemented + structures and practices.
  • Job creation: Full employment is full dignity; everyone working means everyone bettering themselves, their families, and society.

People must be at the forefront of our organizing and our politics. People don’t want rhetoric or process, they want answers.

One Love. One II.

Photo credit: srqpix on Flickr


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

One response to “Empathy is the best policy”

  1. sunnydelyte21 says :

    Yeah, my sister finished school and is currently not employed.

    The job market is crazy and people still have bills to pay. It seems as if employers don’t have EMPATHY.

    That’s why I thank God for the job I have. I just got it two years ago, it pays the bills. I don’t complain because 2 years ago, I was a stuggling mother of one on walfare.

    Thank God!!!

    Great post!!!

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