SAN FRANCISCO – Over Memorial Day weekend, I participated in a blog carnival here at MomsRising on Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law and the fallout of immigration policies that break up families. In one of the stories’ threads, I engaged in a conversation with a woman named "Carla," who said she was simply becoming educated on the issue, although she thought undocumented men without families in the United States should be deported.
At one point, she asked me what I thought should be done about the problem of those who come to the country illegally. I answered her truthfully that while I did not have the answers, I thought the issue should be approached "with compassion."
She shot back, "Compassion is an idea, not a solution."
Being your stereotypical bleeding heart liberal, or at least a guilt-ridden Catholic, this is not the first time I have heard this critique.
It was refreshing to sit in a packed ballroom at the Mariott Hotel in San Francisco yesterday and listen to Arianna Huffington, arguably the most successful woman in media, say just the opposite: what is missing in today’s world of wars, oil spills and economic problems, are not high IQ scores, or however it is we measure problem-solvers, but empathy, she said.
"The people who are running these businesses, BP, Wall Street, are smart," Huffington said. "No one is saying that Tony Hayward doesn’t have a high IQ. But one of the things that is missing is empathy. Empathy is necessary for the survival of civilization."
Huffington addressed hundreds of people, largely professional women, at the 36th annual luncheon of the women and girls advocacy group, Equal Rights Advocates. They are the same group representing working class women in a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart. On April 26 of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified Dukes v. Wal-Mart, which up to date, is the largest sex discrimination class lawsuit in history. Filed in 2001 by Equal Rights Advocates and others, it alleges that Wal-Mart and its subsidiary, Sam’s Club, discriminated against female employees in terms of promotions, training and pay.
Huffington congratulated the group for its work the last 36 years. And while the fight for equal pay for women has yet to be won, she said the group exhibited a key trait necessary for success.
“What differentiates people who succeed from the people who fail is perseverance,” she said. She noted that it took Thomas Edison a dozen times to invent the light bulb. Imagine if he gave up after the 8th or 9th time?
Huffington also noted a key attribute inherent in most women that is sorely needed in today’s hard economic times: empathy of the maternal kind.
"If there is one thing that is absolutely…beyond dispute is that men have screwed up the world," Huffington said to laughter. "All men present here are exempted." More laughter followed.
"I really feel that if Lehman Brothers were Lehman Brothers and Sisters, they might still be around. Because we are living in extraordinary times, what is missing is wisdom. We (women) have the responsibility to run things differently.
"Empathy has come natural to us. We have been childcare providers for what BP would call the ‘small people.’ Because we had to care for the small people, we recognize the small people everywhere, and that they need taking care of, too."
She encouraged women to be wise -- which she equated with empathy -- fearless (“shut down the obnoxious roomate in your head”) -- and to get a good night’s sleep. After fainting on her desk two years ago from sleep deprivation, Huffington said she has made it a point to get a full eight hours of sleep a night.
"The most important thing I will say today is it is not enough for women to break the glass ceiling," she said. "We need to get to a different place. We need to do success differently. The goal is not to be CEOs and presidents, but to do it with more balance, with more wisdom, and less stress and ulcers in our 50s."
In one of many jokes that kept the crowd engaged, Huffington took a swipe at professional men who brag about getting by on little sleep. She said of a recent dinner date who told her he had slept only four hours the night before: “I thought to myself, 'If you had gotten 5 hours of sleep, this dinner would have been more interesting.'"
Huffington was a dynamic speaker, and not surprisingly, received a standing ovation from this crowd of hundreds. But I must commend her for another trait: her incredible memory, especially when it comes to remembering faces and meetings. When she worked the room at a reception, she looked at every single person in the eye, and gave them her full, undivided attention, as if they were saying the most important thing in the world.
I got to chat with her for a few minutes at this reception, which preceded the speech. I commended her on a television appearance she made with my husband, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos.
“He was good,” she told me of his TV appearance. “We had lunch afterwards and he showed me pictures of the kids. They are so cute.”
We can agree on that as well.