Kim outlines ‘habits’ for success
By Katie Gonzalez, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 30, 2010
In order to lead successful lives, students must be empathetic and take risks that benefit others, College President Jim Yong Kim told students, faculty and community members in the second and final installment of this summer’s Presidential Lecture series on Thursday afternoon in Moore Theater. Drawing from his academic background, Kim used scientific studies and his experiences working as a physician to illustrate how certain “habits of the mind” will help students to lead successful lives.
Habits of the mind — such as persistence, creativity, empathy, independence, taking responsible risks, managing impulsivity and metacognition — are teachable and must be practiced every day, Kim said.
Individuals’ brains constantly change and adapt, so developing good habits of the mind can help students prepare for future challenges, according to Kim.
“You’re halfway through [sophomore Summer], and you have a chance now to consciously think about the habits of your mind and what you can do to prepare yourself for great success in what you choose to do,” Kim said.
Studying anthropology in graduate school helped Kim develop a sense of compassion and empathy, he said. In particular, his studies in ethnography encouraged him to venture out of his comfort zone and interact with a diverse group of people, Kim said.
“You put yourself into a completely foreign situation [and] suspend all of your own assumptions of how the world works [and] try to understand how that particular group views the world,” he said. “That’s the work of anthropology.”
Students can develop their “empathy muscles” each day at Dartmouth by reaching out to different groups, according to Kim.
“My belief is that every one of you has to be in some form anthropologists,” Kim said. “We have done a lot of work to increase the diversity of Dartmouth, but it’s not going to help if you only stay with one group of people.”
Some “controversial” studies suggest that students are becoming less empathetic, but Kim said he disagrees with these findings.
Students’ actions — from their response to the earthquake in Haiti to the recent participation in the Prouty Century Bike Ride and Challenge Walk — are evidence of their ability and desire to act compassionately, Kim said.
“Somehow the closeness that this community feels for disasters happening in far off places seems to belie to me the notion that empathy is going down,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s enough to just pat ourselves on the back by saying there’s an interest in service, or there’s an extraordinary interest in Teach For America.”
Kim also differentiated between responsible and unnecessary risks, cautioning against excessive alcohol consumption, which can impair students’ abilities to manage their impulses.
“I want [students] to fully understand the implications,” Kim said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “People will drink, but drinking in moderation and in a way that allows you to continue to create good judgments is possible. I’m a public health physician, so I’ve got to tell you what the data says.”
Instead, students should take positive risks that will benefit themselves and others, such as taking an interesting class or leading a Dartmouth Outing Club Trip, Kim said in the interview.
Kim cited his own work following his 2004 appointment as director of the World Health Organization’s effort to combat HIV/AIDS and his contribution to the “3 by 5” program, which aimed to treat 3 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS by 2005. Although this initiative did not reach its targeted goal by the designated date, Kim said that it was necessary to take the risk because not making the effort would have represented a far worse course of action.
“If we [had] let all of these people die without trying to treat them, that act [would] morally define our generation,” he said.
In the question and answer session immediately following the lecture, Kim recalled experiences traveling with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, who frequently questioned the ability of an individual to enact lasting social change, Kim said.
Kim responded that optimism is not always a result of “rational decision-making,” but is instead a “moral choice.”
Louisa Harrison ’12 said that she liked that Kim incorporated both scientific research and personal accounts in his lecture, but criticized the shallow explanation of the “habits of the mind” presented in the lecture.
“I think he could have given specific suggestions about what we could do at Dartmouth instead of being really vague,” Harrison said.
Students interviewed by The Dartmouth who wished to remain anonymous said they were also disappointed with the content of the lecture.
“It was the same speech he gave to the parents this weekend,” a ’12 girl said. “On Saturday he outlined the same main points that he said today and his take-home message was the same.”
Students were invited to participate in moderated dinner forums following the Presidential Lecture to further discuss the issues brought up in Kim’s speech.
“In our day-to-day interactions we don’t dwell on intellectual discussions,” Pierre Guo ’12 said. “I really think that the dinner added value and helped to stimulate that type of discussion.”
The Presidential Lecture series — which was modeled after former College President John Sloan Dickey’s “Great Issues” course — will continue year-round to accommodate the schedules of future speakers, Kim said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, actress Meryl Streep and President of Rwanda Paul Kagame have all expressed an interest in speaking as part of the lecture series, according to Kim.
The lecture series is still expanding, and may culminate in the establishment of a “Great Issues” class in the summer of 2011, Kim said.