How to spot an idiot

This commencement speech, by Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker, is wise. It’s all over the internet but in case you missed it, Pritzker talks about idiots and empathy:

The best way to spot an idiot? Look for the person who is cruel.

When we see someone who doesn’t look like us, or sound like us, or act like us, or love like us, or live like us—the first thought that crosses almost everyone’s brain is rooted in either fear or judgement or both. That’s evolution. We survived as a species by being suspicious of things we aren’t familiar with.

In order to be kind, we have to shut down that animal instinct and force our brain to travel a different pathway. Empathy and compassion are evolved states of being. They require the mental capacity to step past our most primal urges.

I’m here to tell you that when someone’s path through this world is marked with acts of cruelty, they have failed the first test of an advanced society. They never forced their animal brain to evolve past its first instinct. They never forged new mental pathways to overcome their own instinctual fears. And so, their thinking and problem-solving will lack the imagination and creativity that the kindest people have in spades… Over my many years in politics and business, I have found one thing to be universally true—the kindest person in the room is often the smartest.

That’s been my experience too, and even more so for my friends who work in the hospitality industry: they dread the arrival of high-status, academically high achieving arseholes, people who prove the dating maxim that you can tell the character of a person by how they treat people they consider unimportant.

Smart here doesn’t necessarily mean academically clever; it means people who are receiving rather than broadcasting, people who are interested and interesting and who see their own success or status not as a treasure to be hoarded but as a joy to be shared, people who have imagination and creativity in spades. These are the people I gravitate to, and who I am lucky to have as friends.