Nicholas Kristof is leaving his longtime post at the New York Times to run for governor of Oregon. I could construct a significant list of issues about which I disagree with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. However, I commend him for his reasoning in making this move:
“I love journalism, but I also love my home state. I keep thinking of Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum: ‘It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,’ he said. ‘The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.'”
Noting that one-quarter of the students who rode the bus with him in elementary and high school “are dead from drugs, alcohol, and suicide—deaths of despair,” he writes: “I’m bucking the journalistic impulse to stay on the sidelines because my heart aches at what classmates have endured, and it feels like the right moment to move from covering problems to trying to fix them.”
He concludes: “I hope to convince some of you that public service in government can be a path to show responsibility for communities we love, for a country that can do better. Even if that means leaving a job I love.”
Yesterday we noted that one person inspired by Christ can change the world. Today we’ll focus on one powerful way to do this.
Why empathy is so vital
Today’s Daily Article was inspired by this headline in Forbes: “Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill According to Research.”
Tracy Brower’s article notes that empathy is especially important these days because “people are experiencing multiple kinds of stress, and data suggests it is affected by the pandemic—and the ways our lives and our work have been turned upside down.” Some examples:
- A global study found 42 percent of people experienced a decline in mental health. Specifically, 67 percent are experiencing increases in stress; 57 percent have increased anxiety; 54 percent are emotionally exhausted; 53 percent are sad; and 50 percent are irritable.
- Another study reported that our sleep is compromised when we feel stressed at work.
- A third study found workplace incivility is rising, with extensive effects that include reduced performance and collaboration, deteriorating customer experiences, and increased turnover.
By contrast, when leaders are empathetic, their employees are much more likely to be innovative, engaged in their work, retained by their companies, feel included in their workplace, and navigate the demands of work and life successfully.
The article encourages leaders to consider the thoughts of others through cognitive empathy (“If I were in his/her position, what would I be thinking right now?”) and emotional empathy. (“Being in his/her position would make me feel _______.”) They should also inquire directly about the challenges their employees are facing, then listen to their responses.
A friend’s wise advice
Nicholas Kristof writes that he is running for governor of Oregon out of empathetic concern for his home state and its people. It would seem appropriate for me to encourage Christians to follow his example by serving everyone we can with empathy for their needs and struggles.
God’s word does, in fact, teach that when we serve the hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, and imprisoned, we are serving Jesus (Matthew 25:35–40). Our Lord exhorted us: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35, my emphasis). And Peter adds: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
However, this call to empathetic service is more nuanced than it might first appear. Peter continues: “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies” (v. 11). In other words, we are to serve within our gifts and abilities by the strength God gives those who answer his call.
It is also true that our service should be directed by our Lord, not by the needs around us. Paul’s Macedonian vision led him west instead of east (Acts 16:6–10), but this made the needs of the region he left no less real. Oswald Chambers noted: “Our Lord’s primary obedience was to the will of his Father, not to the needs of people—the saving of people was the natural outcome of his obedience to the Father.”
A wise friend once told me, “Their need does not constitute your call.”
“On purpose for a purpose”
Before we can serve where God intends us to serve, we must know where God intends us to serve. We can trust his omniscience and perfect will (a fact I discussed in a recent personal blog about Baylor’s football victory over the University of Texas). In fact, the older we get, the more urgently we need to seek and follow our Father’s leading (a fact I discussed in my latest personal blog).
In You Were Made for This Moment, Max Lucado focuses on the dramatic scene in Esther 4 where Mordecai encourages Esther to intercede with the king on behalf of her Jewish people. She explains, “If any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live” (v. 11).
Mordecai replies, “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (v. 14). In response, Esther agrees to go to the king “though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (v. 16).
Lucado then writes: “What took Esther from ‘If I go, I’ll perish’ to ‘If I perish, I perish’? It had to be Mordecai’s straightforward message: ‘You were placed here on purpose for a purpose.’
“So were you, my friend. What if you, like Esther, have an opportunity to act in a way that will bless your people more than you can imagine? This is your moment.”
He continues: “The question is not ‘Will God prevail?’ The question is ‘Will you be part of the team?’ Heaven will offer each one of us the privilege of participating in the holy work. When your invitation comes, may you find the same courage Esther found and make the same decision Mordecai made. Relief will come. May God help you and me to be a part of it.”
Like Esther, you have come to the kingdom “for such a time as this.”
What “holy work” is God inviting you to join today?