Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker’s 2023 commencement speech at Northwestern hits the mark.
The best way to spot an idiot? Look for the person who is cruel. When we see someone who doesn’t look like us, or sound like us, or act like us, or love like us, or live like us — the first thought that crosses almost everyone’s brain is rooted in either fear or judgment or both. That’s evolution. We survived as a species by being suspicious of things we aren’t familiar with.
In order to be kind, we have to shut down that animal instinct and force our brain to travel a different pathway. Empathy and compassion are evolved states of being. They require the mental capacity to step past our most primal urges. I’m here to tell you that when someone’s path through this world is marked with acts of cruelty, they have failed the first test of an advanced society. They never forced their animal brain to evolve past its first instinct. They never forged new mental pathways to overcome their own instinctual fears. And so, their thinking and problem-solving will lack the imagination and creativity that the kindest people have in spades.
Over my many years in politics and business, I have found one thing to be universally true: the kindest person in the room is often the smartest.