Ten days after President John F. Kennedy’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, made his first public appearance at a local elementary school in Washington, DC. A horde of national and local reporters attended the event, although the press kept a respectful distance from President Kennedy’s grieving younger brother.
When the Attorney General entered on a crowded first-grade classroom, a five-year-old boy suddenly raced up to Bob Kennedy and shouted, “Your brother’s been shot! Your brother’s been shot!” At that instant, every adult in the room flinched and then looked downward, too anguished to even see the response of the Attorney General. The little boy, knowing that he had somehow just said something terribly wrong, burst into tears and began sobbing despondently.
Bobby Kennedy reached down, grabbed the five-year-old by the shoulders, kissed him on the cheek, and whispered to him. “That’s all right, son. I’ve got another brother.”
The Attorney General then asked the first grader to take him to his seat and show him what he had been working on earlier that morning. For the next five minutes, Mr. Kennedy sat next to the little boy, who proudly showed him his arithmetic work as Bobby looked on intently, his arm around the young man’s shoulder.
50 years after his tragic assassination, everyone from Ben Sasse and Joe Scarborough to Kamala Harris and Michael Moore have paid homage to RFK for virtually the same reason: Robert F. Kennedy was the epitome of a politician who possessed an abundance of emotional intelligence. It is why Americans have a lingering fondness for leaders across the political spectrum who had it – Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and George H. W. Bush. More than any political factor over time, emotional intelligence has served as the great dividing line between good and bad leaders. There are a plethora of candidates who are steeped in emotional intelligence running for office these days. As a voter, it is up to you to vote for them.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman popularized the notion of emotional intelligence in a bestselling book 23 years ago. It is, according to the author himself, “being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people – positively and negatively – and learning how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.
When you vote this fall, ask yourself if the candidates you are voting for are true to themselves. Know who they are. Follow the Golden Rule. Take criticism as an opportunity for reflection. Think before they speak. Listen as well as they pontificate. Have the courage to admit that they can be wrong. Possess innate decency.
Admit their past mistakes and don’t resort to covering things up, especially if they have hurt others in the past. Are empathetic to the degree that they take the time to walk in the shoes of others. Say “we” and “us” much more readily than “I” or “me.” Have the audacity to change. Possess the courage to stay the course even if is unpopular. Have the fearlessness to forgive, and, just as importantly, have the courage to ask for forgiveness.
Possess enough humility to say “I’m sorry” when they are wrong. Have the capacity to keep their commitments. Help others without the expectation that it will be helpful to themselves. Remember the needs of the most vulnerable—children, the infirmed, the disabled, the sick, immigrants, and the elderly.
Finally, we need elected officials who embrace the time-honored Cherokee principle, to give dignity to others is above all things.
If every American voted for those candidates with the highest emotional intelligence, then our great Republic would enter a more enlightened period of history in which our leaders will make decisions that would benefit the next generation as much, or even more, than their own. It is no accident that the President with the highest emotional intelligence, Abraham Lincoln, also proved to be our greatest.
As usual, it is up to you, the voter. After all, the power in this great country of others is derived, thankfully, from We the People.