EMPATHY is the ability to recognize when someone is hurting and tell that person you understand how he or she must feel.  Those individuals who are most effective at empathy are able to combine compassion with sincerity.

I was personally devastated by the image of American journalist James Foley being held by the collar by his ISIS executioner moments prior to his brutal beheading.  Devastated by the shear inhumanity and barbarism on display.  Devastated for the Foley’s family.  No one should have to experience what they went through.

The tone of President Obama’s comments immediately following Foley’s death matched what I was feeling.  “James was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.”  He went on to say that he had offered condolences to Foley’s family.

30 minutes later he was teeing off at Farm Neck Golf Club. 

On September 7th’s Meet the Press, President Obama responded to a question about this by saying “After having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through, after the statement that I made, that you know, I should’ve anticipated the optics.”

Getting the optics right–a good cry when the cameras are on or being able to ride around in a golf cart when the cameras are turned off–is not compassion.  It’s not sincerity. It’s not empathy.