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Barack Obama Urges Students To Reverse ‘Empathy Deficit’

Barack Obama Urges Students To Reverse ‘Empathy Deficit’

A thousand student-leaders from colleges across the country assembled in Washington, D.C., last month to attend the 2nd annual Campus Progress National Student Conference, sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group. The keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill., the nation’s only Black senator, urged the enthusiastic student audience to find opportunities to serve the public good rather than chase after high-paying jobs.

“It’s going to be easy to forget about this progressive political stuff or to just write a check or participate over the Internet and go chasing after the big house, the large salary and the nice suits and all the things that our money culture says that you should buy … I hope that you don’t get off that easy,” Obama said. “There’s nothing wrong with making money, but focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself, and in the end, I suspect, will leave you unfulfilled.”

The senator also spoke out against what he called an “empathy deficit,” which he said blinds many to the plight of struggling members of society. Obama urged students to put themselves in the shoes of the despondent and downtrodden, adding that true personal fulfillment only comes through working towards the public good.

“At some level, your individual salvation depends on collective salvation. It’s only when you hitch yourself up to something bigger than yourself that you’re going to realize your true potential, and the world will benefit from that potential,” he said.

Obama also urged his heavily Democratic audience to seek common ground with those from all political persuasions, rather than only looking after the needs and desires of only their core political base, as he accused the Bush administration of doing.

He pointed out that even in “red” Republican states, Democrats make up 40 percent of the electorate, just as Republicans make up around 40 percent of the electorate in “blue” Democratic states. Categorizing states as “red” and “blue” belies the possibility of bi-partisan unity and cooperation within particular states, Obama added.

“The problem is that we’ve got a electoral structure that is winner-take-all. So it tends to magnify and distort the degree of division that exists in the country,” he said.

— By David Pluviose

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