Am I crazy to compare myself to Barack Obama? I’m a white woman with no political ambitions raised in Connecticut by parents of distant European descent who are now approaching their fiftieth anniversary. I can barely muster the courage to speak to groups of ten or more in public. I haven’t any significant experience with the law. I’m not a parent. Yet I see my best self in Obama.
For one, we are of the same generation, with only four years between us. I think of him as someone who might have been a classmate of mine or married one of my friends. Mostly, though, I think we share an outlook. This may be no more extraordinary than discovering that we share the same taste in movies. Which I suspect we do. While I can’t envision having a beer with Obama, I can imagine we might enjoy some tea together. But that’s beside the point.
We are both products of now. We have been shaped by all that has gone before us. We are neither ahead of our times nor behind them. We’ve been fortunate enough to receive top notch educations and the unconditional support of those whom we love. We’ve had opportunities that are available only here in the United States where black folks and women have been rising through the ranks. This is our time which shouldn’t be surprising.
To my mind it’s Obama’s temperament that really most distinguishes him. He is far more reasonable than I in the face of antagonism. He is steadier when circumstances fluctuate. He thinks more broadly when minutiae threaten to distract. Yet we share the capability to see more than one side of many issues. This is the empathetic observer’s talent, to recognize with fresh eyes the motivation of others. David Brooks wrote in The New York Times after this election’s third and final presidential debate that when challenged Obama’s “instinct was to self-remove and establish an observer’s perspective.” That instinct makes room for hope, dialogue, and progress rather than the defeatist, divisive, status quo.
Powers of observation are often attributed to writers, and with four books and counting under his belt, Obama has proven his writer’s sensibility. He regularly draws upon his acute observation skills in order to analyze and connect. Similar skills serve me as a writer, photographer, and architect. This I believe: we can all be like Obama; we all have the capacity to hope, negotiate, and move forward if we observe with empathy. It’s really not very audacious.