“How amiable does he appear to be, whose sympathetic heart seems to reecho all the sentiments of those with whom he converses.”
-- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments
What a sublime quote, but it could be misinterpreted. What if a salesman-type takes it up as a way to schmooze and bamboozle?
When I teach students about Smith, it is essential to convey two other ideas:
- That the person of virtue strives to be worthy of the esteem of friends and colleagues;
- That the person who is really engaging a sympathetic heart is doing so spontaneously, without considering the personal gain that might arise.
Hence, in contrast to the perception of mainstream economics training as being opportunistic, I implore students to open up to authenticity, not simply be a manipulator of other people’s sentiments. That means our interactions with others can expose our own fears, hopes, and dreams, and thereby alter us; we are part of the flow.
This does not mean you always must feel sympathy in your heart; if you’re having a bad day you may not have the capacity to feel it right then. Nevertheless, you can remember how you would feel it on your better day, and “fake it” to that extent.