Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Women and Empathy: Is there a Difference?

I was struck by President Obama's appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court Justice this morning. In choosing her, he affirmed that he was looking for a woman as well as a person who held a "different sense of justice", by which I understood that he was seeking out someone who would listen to the legal issues of the day with a certain empathy that may be harder to attain in a man. I had dinner with a friend from law school over the weekend, who has been a Superior Court Judge for 12 years. She readily admitted that she believes women bring a heightened sense of empathy to negotiation, and when acting as a mediator. I personally attributed my empathetic leanings to being a mother. Isn't that part of the job description? And yet, Judge Sotomayor is apparently single and without children. So is there a true genetic difference? I have recently taken an advanced training by Dana Curtis (also a woman, and I don't know if she's a mom) on empathy. It was based upon very specific steps which will open both the listener and disputant to a sense of empathy at every level of the negotiation (including the money side after insulting offers and demands were exchanged). As usual, I don't have the answers to these questions, but I'm undertaking an updating of my old "gender and negotiations" talk to study the specific question of "Learning Empathy: Can Men Learn to Listen Like Women and Women Learn to Speak like Men?" Do they/we want to?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Clinton and Communitarianism

I had the privilege of hearing former President Bill Clinton speak last night at the ACCAmerica Annual Gala (association of Corporate Counsel). I used to consider myself an intellectual, but his address really provoked my thinking. He spoke of "communitarianism", which I thought he'd made up until I did some research this morning. It turns out, that Communitarianism is a philosophy developed by deep thinkers in the 1980's (after I'd left those Ivy covered walls of College life) to reconcile the liberal and conservative thinkers, to unify the nationalists, and to recognize that if we are to move forward globally, we must accept certain basic moral principles (such as children should not have to starve because fate brings them into a nation with limited food and dirty water), and that we share common responsibility (such as addressing global climate changes).

As always, this theoretical construct had major implications in the mediation movement from my perspective. Based in part upon the Asian concepts of harmony, it seeks a balance between extreme positions, for the benefit of all. It is not to say that the philosophy favors proselytizing or converting believers, but rather a gentle, general acceptance that not all conflict must be resolved for coexistence in a world of limited resources and basic, shared, humanitarian values.

My limited research into communitarianism fascinated me and I wanted to share it with you and encourage my community of readers to look into it as a guidepost for the next century.