The New Meaning of Sexy
January 18, 2016
Professional Conduct Guaranteed: Take Two
March 20, 2016

Empathy and Chutzpah

When I was building my family, I was all for promoting self-expression. I was all for women’s liberation and children’s liberation. I wanted my wife and son to feel free to express their views and feelings. BIG MISTAKE! 

As a result of my foolishness, I have spent the last thirty years surrounded by overly assertive family members who challenge my every word, question my judgment, and want me to experiment with colors other than brown. Our son never had a thought that didn’t find its way into his mouth. My wife, in turn, never had a grievance she didn’t express. Oh, the joys of democracy. But I have to admit that both have made me a better person: more empathic, more sensitive, more egalitarian, more democratic, more in tune with my feelings. So much so, that I can never speak to male friends anymore. So much so, that every major decision in the house, like the color of my underwear, requires a meeting with minutes and secret ballot.

Coping with assertive family members has been excellent training for dealing with students. The other day, and this is a true story, I received an email from a student at another university telling me that his psych professor had assigned them a paper that I had written for them to critique. The student had the chutzpah of asking me to write a few points critiquing my own bloody paper! I hadn’t heard such chutzpah since the son who killed his parents asked the judge for leniency because he was an orphan.

Mastering interactions is basically about two things: expressing your ideas respectfully, and listening attentively. During my career I have been in too many meetings where people had no idea about either of them. In one corner, you usually have the rantologist who, no matter what the topic is, will always rant about his pet peeve. In the other corner, you have the sorryologist, who cannot stop apologizing for his existence. Instead of talking about substance, he spends most of the time apologizing for expressing an opinion. Then you have the repeatologist, who must repeat everything four times to feel satisfied. And then there is me, going crazy.

There is family, there are colleagues, and then, of course, there are Miami drivers. Mastering interactions with each of them is no small feat. Going to faculty meetings is good training for driving in Miami. Whereas my wife and my son have made me more sensitive, empathic, democratic, egalitarian, and in tune with my feelings; faculty meetings have made me more like, you know, Miami drivers.

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