Joe Biden has a powerful message for the leaders of tomorrow: In order to affect change, you must first be able to feel empathy.

In his speech at the Cornell University commencement ceremony in Ithaca, New York, on Saturday, the former U.S. vice president urged graduates to look out for one another. He noted that some of his greatest political achievements--crafting the Violence Against Women Act, for instance--stemmed from a fundamental belief in, and concern for, the people around him. (The law, which was passed in 1994 when Biden was serving in the U.S. Senate, provided nearly $2 billion to investigate and prosecute crimes against women.)

"You don't need years of experience or an Ivy League degree to put this into practice," Biden said. "Everything from your marriage to your job to your neighborhood to your country works better when we take the time to look out for the other guy."

Biden warned the audience that social media may prevent the next generation of business leaders from truly engaging with their communities.

"The people I've known who are successful and happy are the people who treat others with the same dignity that they demand for themselves," he said. "To do that, you're going to have to fight the urge to build a self-referential, self-reinforcing, and self-righteous echo chamber of yourself online."

Recent research suggests that your online life may impact your mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that the more people use Facebook, the less satisfied they are with their lives; the more a user clicked 'like,' the greater the likelihood they would experience mental health problems, researchers found.

In particular, Biden said, social media impedes users' ability to view others as complex. "Living in your screens encourages shallow and antiseptic relationships that make it too easy to reduce the other to stereotypes," he said. "You have to ascribe to others the same emotional complexity that you know yourself."

Throughout the speech, Biden also took thinly veiled shots at the rhetoric of President Donald Trump. During the 2016 election, "Civilized discourse and real debate gave way to the coarsest rhetoric stroking our darkest emotions," he said.

"I thought we had passed the days where it was acceptable for political leaders to bestow legitimacy on hate speech and fringe ideologies," he added, likely referring to Trump's remarks concerning women, minorities, and immigrants.

Published on: May 30, 2017