In usual times, elections are fought predominantly on policy issues. Members of the electorate are asked to look at each of the candidate’s policies and make a decision about which party has the ones that will benefit them the most. This election, another area has taken front and center: the character of each of the two men who are running.
While there may be plenty of people who disagree with him, Joe Biden is widely known as a caring person, who is able to connect with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. There are plenty of stories of about him comforting families experiencing loss, or taking time out of his busy campaign schedule to help inspire kids who stutter.
Donald Trump on the other hand seems to bring out the strongest feelings of dislike for a leader that we have witnessed for a long time. So what is it that makes Joe Biden so likable?
As an expert on emotional intelligence, I’ve been following this topic closely. We often hear that it’s his empathy. While he has shown a great deal of empathy, I believe there is more to him that demonstrates a great deal of emotional intelligence.
He admits mistakes
It was not unexpected that Biden picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Harris is highly knowledgeable, a powerful speaker, and aligned on the same issues. As the first Black woman and Asian-American to be nominated for vice president, she advances the progressive, inclusive agenda of the Democratic Party.
There were, however, some personal reasons that could have caused Biden to pick another candidate over Harris. During the first presidential primary debate, she criticized him for issues related to racial equality, such as his prior opposition to bussing. Another sore point was that Biden had publicly stated that he had worked with a couple of Mississippi senators who were segregationists. He made the point to indicate that he had the ability to work with senators on both sides of the aisle, but he was criticized for these comments. Harris jumped on this as another example of his failing the Black community. Taken aback by the comments from Harris, Biden seemed genuinely hurt. He saw his strong relationship with the Black community as one of his strengths. His wife Jill described it as a “punch to the gut.”
But Biden took Harris’s critique to heart. Even though he explained why he opposed bussing at the time, Biden later went on to admit that it was a mistake. He also went on to apologize for his statements regarding working with the segregationist senators, realizing that how hurtful it was to the Black community. Showing adaptability, vulnerability, and taking responsibility like this are high EI traits.
He moves past disagreements
Biden and Harris were quite familiar with one another and she had a good working relationship with his late son Beau Biden, who was the attorney general of Delaware during the time she held the same office in California. After she dropped out of the presidential race, Harris opted to throw her support behind Biden and raised money for his campaign.
In choosing her as a running mate, Biden was able to set aside personal feelings and choose what he felt was best for the country, the party, and his election chances. Contrast this with Donald Trump, who regularly attacks those he feels have slighted him in any way and takes everything very personally.
He shows empathy
During the final Presidential debate, Biden took Trump to task over the children that were separated from their parents and detained in cages after crossing the border with their parents. Over 500 of these children have not been reunited with their parents. Trump showed his lack of compassion for what the children and families were going through by stating that they were being well cared for.
Biden also showed his empathy by talking about families that had an empty chair at their dinner tables because they had lost someone to COVID-19. Trump ignored this and reiterated his claim, unsupported by facts, that the country was turning a corner on the pandemic. He showed no empathy or concern for the people who had passed away, or for their families.
He’s willing to be vulnerable
Biden’s empathy was demonstrated at a town hall meeting that was held prior to the South Carolina primary. While there, Biden was speaking to Reverend Anthony Thompson who had lost his wife, Myra, during the shooting by a white supremacist at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Biden showed his understanding of grief by opening himself and sharing the pain he felt when he lost his first wife and daughter in an automobile accident. Later, he also lost his son Beau to cancer.
Through his vulnerability and ability to access his own pain, he showed exactly the kind of feelings and actions that were needed to start the healing during this difficult time. It may be during these difficult times after the tragic loss of his wife and daughter that Biden’s empathy was formed. Growing up struggling with his stuttering and being teased in school may also have shaped him to be more sensitive and compassionate to the pain of others.
It’s for these reasons that I believe Biden is exactly what Americans desperately need at this critical time: a leader with a high-level of emotional intelligence who can steer the country toward healing.