Empathy, Not Hubris

Empathy, Not Hubris


Leonard Zwelling


David Axelrod wrote an informed op-ed on the website of The New York Times on February 14. In it he begged Mr. Biden to use the platform of the State of the Union Address to express his empathy for what Americans have gone through in the past two years. Rather than do what most of his predecessors have done with this time before the Congress and the American people, laud his administration’s accomplishments and paint a rosy picture of the future, he should acknowledge that the state of the union is not great although better than when he took office. Then he needs to spend a little time convincing us all that he gets the problems—the virus, inflation, immigration, crime—and has concrete ideas for how to make progress on these issues in real time.

Given the slim majority Mr. Biden’s party holds in the Congress and the likelihood that it will evaporate in November, this is a tall order. However, if the President wants to regain the trust of those who elected him, he better do less bragging about what he has done and more clearly explain that he gets what has happened, why, and has plans to deal with it.

As one of my leadership teachers said, the best speeches begin with:

“I have a vision of the future.

“I have a plan to get us there.

“It will not be easy.

“It will be worth it once we get there.”

This opening is good for Presidents of the United States and for presidents of anything else.

Currently, as a retiree and concerned ex-faculty member, I see MD Anderson drifting in an unfocused whirlpool of an absence of purpose and a lack of direction. Past presidents of Anderson have been quite clear on their visions. For R. Lee Clark it was MD Anderson itself as a major cancer center. For Dr. LeMaistre it was cancer prevention as a new, major mission area. For John Mendelson it was growing the size of the institution, its philanthropic reach, its national image and its basic research. Even the controversial Ron DePinho had his moonshots. What is Dr. Pisters’ vision? I have no idea. It seems to be the corporatization of the institution and the leveling of personnel so that faculty are no more than employees and employees are replaceable cogs in the wheels of the MD Anderson ATM money machine—the clinical enterprise.

After we have been through the pandemic, inflation still rages, the need for more workers in and out of health care rises, and safety on the streets is a real concern, President Biden needs to show he gets it and has a vision for the future with concrete steps to get there and it’s not the Build Back Better Bill.

Dr. Pisters needs to demonstrate that he actually understands what MD Anderson is and that its two greatest assets are its name and its faculty and both need constant care.

It is time for humility all around. Fewer mandates from the federal government and fewer surveys from the central administration at MD Anderson. It might also help if the institution would program the faculty’s new phones and put the PRS back where it belongs not in HR. And if Dr. Pisters doesn’t get the need for a faculty dining room, he doesn’t get the faculty at all.

Prove you get it Dr. Pisters. What’s the plan? Call a play. No more fumbles. So far, not so good.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *