Mark B. Baer, Esq.

Empathy and Relationships

The Firing of Comey and the Empathy Gap

Your reaction to Trump's firing of Comey may make you more self-aware.

Posted May 10, 2017

On May 9, 2017, President Donald Trump fired James B. Comey as Director of the FBI, which is investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year's presidential election.

Trump's decision should cause all of us great concern, regardless of whether or not we believe such links exist. In so doing, Trump will be hand-picking Comey's successor to lead that investigation. Regardless of who he selects, the Bureau will have lost all credibility in that regard.

Politics aside, the President of the United States is not above the law. 

"The rule of law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by random decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behaviour, including behaviour of government officials...

Rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law, including lawmakers themselves. In this sense, it stands in contrast to an autocracy, dictatorship, or oligarchy where the rulers are held above the law." 

Meanwhile, many people are defending Trump's decision, which he claims was based upon Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails during the presidential election.

A great many of those most troubled by this new development were no fans of Comey because of his handling of that investigation.

As such, many Trump supporters seem stunned by their reaction.

"President Donald Trump took to Twitter chide Democrats for protesting Tuesday's abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey.

'Dems have been complaining for months & months about Dir. Comey. Now that he has been fired they PRETEND to be aggrieved. Phony hypocrites!,' Trump tweeted."

There is nothing inherently inconsistent with people disliking Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's email investigation and their being deeply disturbed by Trump's decision to fire him at this time. The concern is not over Comey's termination, but that it occurred amid a pending investigation into Trump and his administration. Trump terminated the person in charge of the only politically independent investigation into him and his administration, thereby destroying any perception of the Bureau's independence in its ongoing investigation.

Contrary to Trump's claims, according to a congressional source, "FBI Director James Comey sought to expand his agency's probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election days before President Donald Trump fired him on Tuesday."

What's important here is context. Trump and his team can say whatever they want, and what they say may or may not be truthful, which is why we have a system of checks and balances. 

How many people who commit a crime admit having done so, regardless of their wealth and power? How many people admit to wrongdoing, whether it is or isn't a crime? For that matter, how often do people admit to having made a mistake and take personal responsibility? 

"One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged."

We wouldn't need such a principle, if people always admitted to their misdoings, criminal or otherwise.  

When the President of the United States fires the Director of the Bureau investingating him and his administration, makes self-serving statements in his letter of termination which he deliberately made public, and announces that the investigation is closed, he's using his power and position to rig the system.

It may well be that Trump and all the members of his administration are innocent. However, the system is designed to make such a finding. The President doesn't get to use his position and authority, such that the rules don't apply to him.  

"Empathic people understand the importance of context. They see the big picture."

The following is an excerpt from A summary of the book "A whole new mind - Why right-brainers will rule the future By Daniel H. Pink", Summary by Kim Hartman

"The conceptual age is about putting the pieces together—Symphony...

Not just logic but also empathy. In addition to logic you need to have an ability to understand what makes your fellow man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others...

Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else´s position and intuit what that person is feeling. It is the ability to stand in others shoes, to see with their eyes, and to feel with their hearts. But empathy isn’t sympathy—feeling bad for someone else. It is feeling with someone else, seeing what it would be like to be that person.

Empathy builds self-awareness; bonds parent to child, allows us to work together, and provides the scaffolding for our morality...

Empathy is an ethic for living. It’s a means of understanding other human beings, a universal language that connects us beyond country of culture...

Empathy is related to symphony—because empathic people understand the importance of context. They see the whole person much as symphonic thinkers see the whole picture."

The importance of empathy and other relational skills is even filtering into legal education.

Consider Susan Brook's article "Using A Communication Perspective To Teach Relational Lawyering" that was published in Spring 2015 edition of the Nevada Law Journal. The article states in part as follows:

"In today’s brave new world of legal education, many of us are redefining our goals as educators to include relational competencies, such as empathy, self-awareness, listening skills, and practical judgment. Recent developments affecting legal education support a growing recognition of a need for teaching relational skills as part of a push for more practical skills training. The American Bar Association is in the process of adopting a requirement that every law school under its jurisdiction provide at least six credits of skills training. Many law schools on their own are reforming their curricula to include core courses aimed at teaching relational skills, such as self-awareness, collaboration, and teamwork. Outside of legal education, the fundamental importance of these skills is even more well-accepted. An exemplary recent article touts empathy as the most important skill that employers will be seeking by the year 2020."

Interestingly enough, Section II of Brook's article is titled "Defining and Contextualizing a Communication", Section III is titled "Core Principles of a Communication Perspective", and its first subsection is titled "Recognizing the Importance of Context".

Just last month, Seton Hall Law Review published an article by Paula A. Franzese titled "The Power of Empathy in the Classroom", which states:

"Empathic learning deepens our students’ abilities to cultivate a more nuanced, conceptual, and resonant understanding of a given subject. It facilitates the process of deriving meaning from context."

If you failed to grasp the importance of context in Trump's firing of Comey, it may behoove you to develop more empathy and other relational competencies. As they say, context is everything. 

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