“Take your genius and your optimism and your empathy and go change the world” : Bill and Melinda Gates on the Power of Empathy

Kristie Wang's picture

Last weekend, Bill and Melinda Gates addressed Stanford’s graduating class, and urged them to use empathy and optimism to change the world. The couple delivered a poignant speech illustrating why innovation and optimism alone were not enough to make the world better.

Bill said, “Even in dire situations, optimism can fuel innovation and lead to new tools to eliminate suffering. But if you never really see the people who are suffering, your optimism can't help them. You will never change their world. And that brings me to what I see as a paradox.”

That paradox is the exhilarating optimism for the future brought about by new innovations, and a deep sense of pessimism brought by the deepening inequality and decline in opportunity seen across the country.

Bill continued, “If technology is purely market-driven and we don't focus innovation on the big inequities, then we could have amazing inventions that leave the world even more divided.”

“We won't improve public schools. We won't cure malaria. We won't end poverty. We won't develop the innovations poor farmers need to grow food in a changing climate.”

“If our optimism doesn't address the problems that affect so many of our fellow human beings, then our optimism needs more empathy.” 

Melinda emphasized how interacting with people—especially those who are suffering or less privileged--is key to building empathy for them.  “When I talk with the mothers I meet during my travels, I see that there is no difference at all in what we want for our children,” she said.

“The only difference is our ability to give it to them…When we strip away our luck and privilege and consider where we'd be without them, it becomes easier to see someone who's poor and sick and say ‘that could be me.'”

“This is empathy; it tears down barriers and opens up new frontiers for optimism.”

She closed with this challenge: “So here is our appeal to you: As you leave Stanford, take your genius and your optimism and your empathy and go change the world in ways that will make millions of others optimistic as well.”

Are you activating empathy to create change?  Are you creating, or planning to create, impact within San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, or San Benito County?  Then enter the Building Vibrant Communities competition today! 

Enter before the early entry deadline—June 26, 2014, 5 p.m. PDT—to be eligible for one of two $1,000 prizes! Enter before the final deadline—July 10, 2014, 5 p.m. PDT—and you could win one of four $100,000 prizes, or one of two possible $50,000 idea prizes for early-stage initiatives.

For the full transcript of Bill and Melinda Gates’ speech, click here. 

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