Byron's Babbles

Codifier Of Compassion

I am reading the final pages of what is right now the fourth in the great series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro. Caro is working the fifth and final and I sure hope he finishes it. These books that are really about power – how power is obtained, how power is used, and how power is abused. The fourth book, The Passage of Power, begins right before President Kennedy’s assassination and takes us through the first few months of Johnson’s Presidency. This includes passing a civil rights bill, getting budget approval, and a tax cut bill passed.

Robert Caro is an incredibly talented writer and I was moved by a statement in the book about Johnson. Here it is:

“He was to become the lawmaker for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed. He was to be the bearer of at least a measure of social justice to those whom social justice had so long been denied. The restorer of at least a measure of dignity to those who so desperately needed to be given some dignity. The redeemer of the promises made by them to America. “It is time to write it in the books of law.” By the time Lyndon Johnson left office he had done a lot of writing in those books, had become, above all presidents save Lincoln, the codifier of compassion, the president who wrote mercy and justice in the statute books by which America was governed.” ~ Robert A. Caro in The Passage of Power

He was comparing Johnson to Lincoln as a “codifier of compassion.” To codify means to make something a part of an organized system. In other words it becomes more than talk.

Because of the childhood poverty, his relationship with his father, and his teaching position, was able to have all three types of empathy I teach about in leadership professional growth gatherings. He was first able to show Cognitive Empathy; the ability to understand another person’s perspective. Because Johnson grew up in poverty, he was able to feel what another person feels, or what is called Emotional Empathy.

Thirdly, because of his experience as a teacher at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas, a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico, he practiced Empathic Concern: the ability to sense what another person needs from you. Johnson’s classes were made up of the children of Mexican-American farmers. Johnson didn’t speak Spanish and many of his students didn’t speak English. Despite this limitation, Johnson quickly and enthusiastically began teaching and encouraging the children to speak English by holding speech and debate tournaments.

Johnson was very strict with his students and left a lasting impression on them. In addition, Johnson organized a literary society, an athletic club, and organized field trips to neighboring towns so his students could compete in sporting events, speech, and spelling contests. With his first paycheck, Johnson bought playground equipment. In a letter home to his mother, Johnson wrote about his work with the students and asked her for help in sending toothpaste for the children and borrowing materials for his debate team.

Clearly Johnson’s upbringing gave him tremendous ability for empathy, but notice he added action to this. Thus, becoming compassion. Empathy is just a profound feeling, but add to that merciful and helpful action and you get compassion and supportive companionship. Compassion is empathy put into action, or as is the point of this post, codified.

Johnson’s past experiences had set him up perfectly to be a “codifier of compassion.” He knew what had to be done and did it. So many leaders talk empathy very well, but that is all it is – talk. We must walk the talk and codify that empathy with the actions of compassion.