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Joe Biden's response to a protester demonstrates the true power of empathy.

He may not know exactly what that protester was feeling, but he tried to understand.

Joe Biden's response to a protester demonstrates the true power of empathy.

While out campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Ohio, Joe Biden was met with every politician's worst nightmare: protesters.

Or, rather, in this case, one very vocal protester. While the vice president was highlighting the differences between the proposed Clinton tax policy and the one put forward by the Trump campaign, he was peppered with shouts from the audience about a very different (but very important issue): U.S. foreign policy.

"My friend died," the protester, who calls himself Reinas, shouted.


"So did my son," responded Biden.

Last year, Joe Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer at the age of 46. A member of the Delaware National Guard, Beau Biden served a tour in Iraq.

"I respect Biden’s son and everything he did. But I was a bit confused as to the relevance to the conversation," Reinas told The Guardian. "I am not against the Obama administration and I respect Joe Biden. After hearing what he said, I think maybe he means well, but it was evident that he hasn’t been briefed on the situation in Syria."

And he has a point. Beau Biden did not die in the war itself. And maybe that makes his retort imperfect. Even so, it gets at a deeper human issue: empathy. Reinas knows what it's like to experience the loss of someone close to him. So does Joe Biden. So do many of us.

Vice President Joe Biden with his son, U.S. Army Capt. Beau Biden at Camp Victory in Baghdad in 2009. Photo by Khalid Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images.

The crowd tried to drown out the interruption with cheers of "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!" but the vice president told Reinas that he would get a chance to speak later.

"Come back after and talk to me about this. OK? You have my permission," said Biden.

And while it seems the two were unable to connect afterward due to scheduling issues, Reinas did get his phone number into the hands of one of Biden's Secret Service agents.

"At first they toyed with the idea of my meeting Biden, but in the end I was told that he didn’t have time for me," he told the Guardian. "So I offered my phone number, so that Joe Biden could contact me. I’m still waiting."

Responding well to criticism can be tricky, especially in the heat of the moment.

Invoking the heartbreaking memory of his dead son — an issue many believe directly led to Biden's decision not to run for president in 2016 — could not have been easy. But in that moment, it was necessary in order to convey that Biden, too, understood loss.

Joe Biden and his son Beau during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

Perhaps it'd have been easier to let the crowd drown out the protests. Perhaps it'd have been easier to instruct security to remove Reinas from the venue. It's a whole lot harder to open yourself up to your own personal pain and be willing to have a real conversation with a complete stranger, especially one who disagrees with you so vehemently.

Though Reinas and Biden didn't get the chance to have that one-on-one conversation just yet, their exchange stands as an admirable example of how empathy can help bridge the gaps between one another.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less