I love this speech and cannot resist sharing it with you. It is the remarks that Joe Biden gave to the graduating class at Yale in 2015. He tells a powerful story of how our beliefs can mislead us. What a heartening message of humility and humanity. Never again will I make the assumption that I know what someone else is thinking:
There’s no silver bullet, no single formula, no reductive list. But they all seem to understand that happiness and success result from an accumulation of thousands of little things built on character, all of which have certain common features in my observation.
First, the most successful and happiest people I’ve known understand that a good life at its core is about being personal. It’s about being engaged. It’s about being there for a friend or a colleague when they’re injured or in an accident, remembering the birthdays, congratulating them on their marriage, celebrating the birth of their child. It’s about being available to them when they’re going through personal loss. It’s about loving someone more than yourself. It all seems to get down to being personal.
That’s the stuff that fosters relationships. It’s the only way to breed trust in everything you do in your life.
Let me give you an example. After only four months in the United States Senate, as a 30-year-old kid, I was walking through the Senate floor to go to a meeting with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. And I witnessed another newly elected senator, the extremely conservative Jesse Helms, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole for promoting the precursor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But I had to see the Leader, so I kept walking.
When I walked into Mansfield’s office, I must have looked as angry as I was. He was in his late ‘70s, lived to be 100. And he looked at me, he said, what’s bothering you, Joe?
I said, that guy, Helms, he has no social redeeming value. He doesn’t care — I really mean it — I was angry. He doesn’t care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled.
Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me. He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe.
I felt like a fool. He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don’t know his motives.
It happened early in my career fortunately.
From that moment on, I tried to look past the caricatures of my colleagues and try to see the whole person. Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive. And something started to change. If you notice, every time there’s a crisis in the Congress the last eight years, I get sent to the Hill to deal with it. It’s because every one of those men and women up there — whether they like me or not — know that I don’t judge them for what I think they’re thinking.
Because when you question a man’s motive, when you say they’re acting out of greed, they’re in the pocket of an interest group, et cetera, it’s awful hard to reach consensus. It’s awful hard having to reach across the table and shake hands. No matter how bitterly you disagree, though, it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive.”