Until this week, I wouldn't have associated radio personality Glenn Beck with compassion. And when Jim Doty, MD, director of Stanford Medicine's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education invited Beck to the Stanford campus, he realized the right-of-center author and provocateur might be a tough sell to his audience accustomed to guests such as the Dalai Lama and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
"Please trust me," Doty tweeted last week.
Yet fireworks were absent from the nearly two-hour conversation, which ranged from Beck's struggle with addiction to his Mormon faith and his passion for radio.
Beck came across as human, a man who had endured struggles, made mistakes and is striving to learn from them. He is a father and husband, who organizes charity efforts and volunteers in his church. He said he's gone from a person for whom the audience size was just a measure of his success to a man who cares deeply about people and his audience members. He prays for humility and said he is not trying to be divisive.
"I spend a lot of time, at the end of my day, saying, 'Okay, am I that guy? What could I have done better,'" Beck said. "You self-examine all the time and with that self-examination you grow. It's good. I know who I am because I'm pushed up against the wall all the time."
Americans share a certain set of principles in common, Beck said. The rift begins when people replace their principles with specific interests and policies.
"For example, if I said to you, 'Do we torture?'," Beck said. Nearly everyone would say no. But once threats from terrorists are introduced, the conversation becomes more divided.
"The left and the right have principles in common. We may disagree on interests, but we have to start anchoring ourselves in the principles."
The evening was not all kumbaya. Beck did manage to get in jabs at the media, politicians, Wall Street traders and a certain pink-haired college student in San Francisco who had questioned him earlier that day.
But he was playing to a friendly audience. I sat beside Kathi Encinas and her husband, Jef. Kathi had just learned of the event and asked to leave work early so she could travel from Pacific Grove for the talk, an effect she deemed well worth it. "I love being here and seeing him in person," she said. Some people clutched copies of his books they were hoping to get signed.
"Thank you so much for everything you do," one woman in the audience told Beck during the Q&A session that followed. "We pray for you and your family."
Beck appeared glad to be among fans: "I expected more hippies," he said.
Previously: Dreaming vs. doing: How my definition of compassion changed during medical school, The Dalai Lama talks business, compassion and happiness and Are women more compassionate than men? What the science tell us
Photo by Christopher Wesselman