What we need: Empathy in local campaigns
To the Editor:
Empathy. What an empty, soft sounding word. Hardly worth mentioning as an area of importance in a candidate for office, really. No, we prefer our more concrete traits: discipline, integrity, persistence, follow-through. And yet, as tremendously important as these things are, I find that without empathy, that ability to imagine ourselves in the shoes of another person, and attempt to feel something they feel, requires something more. Something more difficult to fake. Empathy requires imagination and a deep-rooted belief that someone else’s life matters. So many of the concerns I have over the state of our school district (and indeed in our country), stem from an appalling lack of empathy.
I write about empathy today as a slew of candidates come out of the woodwork, all fresh-faced (well, maybe not all), but many eager new voices ready to take on the demands of local office, to represent us and our families. That ability to empathize will be one of many skills I look for in the candidates who will earn my support, and a skill we often mention the least. It is my hope that all of us will look carefully for the candidates who can demonstrate this skill as well, as it tells us not only of someone’s imagination and ability to think beyond what is immediately in front of them, but it also speaks to how committed they are to representing us, the electorate, or simply pushing their agenda because they believe they know best. One candidate I wish to highlight in all this, though I have a few favorites, is Kyle Adams. You might not know Kyle. He is one of our younger candidates, running for School Committee in District 1. His opposition is Rick Cascella and Tanios BouRamia.
Kyle recently met me for coffee to answer some of my questions. Although I no longer live in his ward, I wanted to meet him, as I have two young children who attend school within the ward on account of their special needs. What I found in this candidate was what I was seeking: an inquisitive mind, an open, discerning person, and a love for the ward and the school district that was apparent, and (in my opinion) hard to fake. Kyle described how he would work to ensure money would be spent more prudently, to ensure no school left health and well-being of students in the cold in favor of fancy “extras.” He spoke at length as to how frustrating it has been to see all alma maters, save for his high school, Pilgrim, shut down. After all this, it occurred to me to ask, “Wait a second. Do you have children?” He smiled, “No, and no plans to have kids.” Huh. Well that is...unexpected. Common wisdom tells me and many readers that a candidate for school committee cannot possibly have enough skin in the game unless they not only have children but that they attend school in the district, so I asked the obvious question, “Why run, then?”
It was then I saw the empathy in this remarkably even-keeled, knowledgeable young man. He explained this was his town and that these schools matter to him. He went to every school in Ward 1 from John Brown Francis up through Pilgrim. He spoke of certain wings within each school that needed repair from the perspective of a proud alumnus. Now, he explained, with his MBA he has a more solid background in financial management to make the kind of contribution he has always wanted to make, to the place that gave him so much. This is a candidate with heart and skill, and in that moment, he earned my support. I urge every voter to look for the people who have a sense of community and ownership over our city, the people who are raising their hands to say “I can help” and who, through your own conversations, show that empathy, that care and concern for the well-being of our students, teachers, administrators and parents. Find your candidates, and talk to them – you’ll find the rock stars instantly. I have faith that the vast majority of us will suss out the career politicians (and aspiring career politicians) quickly, and see the public servants for who they are.
To all candidates: I am so grateful for your courage and willingness to put your time, energy and resources forward on all of our behalf, and so I thank you each. In doing so, you have contributed to a spirit of activism and civic stewardship that should set an example for all of us.
Leah Charpentier BouRamia, M.Ed.