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Empathy for the Absent



In Practical Wisdom the authors argue for empathy and against rules. There is something to be said for their argument.

But we tend to empathize with those who are present and not those we do not see or even know.

For example in academic tenure and promotion decisions, slack is often cut for colleagues who already have their foot in the door. We know them, their troubles and challenges. So they are tenured and promoted and given salary increases and perks even though there are others outside the door who may have greater productivity and even greater troubles and challenges.

Charlie Munger in an interview at the University of Michigan spoke of how hard it is for physicians to hold their peers responsible when they are incompetent or negligent. They have empathy for their peers, knowing their troubles and challenges. And Munger also says few physicians are willing to suffer the long-lasting "ill will" from their peers who have been held accountable. They do not know so well the patients who suffer, and one way or another, the patients are soon out of sight.

Just as in academics we do not know so well the students who suffer; or the able scholars who suffer, standing outside the door.

Following rules seems unsympathetic and lacking in empathy. But it may be the best way to show empathy for the absent.


The book mentioned is:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.


The interview with Munger is:

Quick, Rebecca (interviewer). "A Conversation with Charlie Munger." University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Sept. 14, 2010.






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