Acton Institute Powerblog

Adam Smith shows how sympathy makes life more satisfying

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The eighteenth century British economist Adam Smith helps with moral challenges, especially in work and employment, says Daniel B. Klein of the American Enterprise Institute. Smith inspires the individual to make a useful and satisfying place for himself in society by contributing.

Competence is key, adds Klein, and Smith shows the crucial competence is in sympathy. The individual needs competence in sympathy to find his own life satisfying. As a moral counselor, Smith helps the worker and the employer:

By “sympathy” Smith mean feeling or shared sentiment. Deftness in sympathizing might be thought of as social intelligence. It’s crucial to the social virtues. Sympathetic deftness is a kind of competence or ability. Employers are wise to look for it. Workers with sympathetic deftness are more productive—lower cost, higher revenue.

And there is pleasure in sympathy. Even when the sentiment that is shared is an unpleasant one, as hospitals perhaps, there is pleasure in the sharing of it. Workers with sympathetic deftness are nicer to be around. A nice workplace makes jobs there more attractive to other workers. Sympathetic deftness is win-win-win.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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