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Meet Our Fellows: Gary Reid

Fellow Spotlight

By: Gary Reid

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Who or what inspired you to work in public service?

Hard to say. It‘s been pretty much just a thoroughly embedded desire to contribute to helping people to better understand how to sensibly address persistent social and economic challenges, like poverty, environmental degradation, discrimination, etc. So, I suppose the appropriate answer would be my parents, and my mother in particular.

What is something you are excited about right now?

The insights into how people think and why provided by researchers such as Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and Richard Thaler.

What is your favorite class you have ever taught or took and why?

Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision class. He and his team did an eye-opening job of laying out three distinct lenses that could be employed to make sense of the Soviet Union’s foray into installing ICBMs in Cuba. Each lens led to its own distinct ranking of recommendations for how the US might want to respond. Key takeaway: No single lens has a corner on reality or truth.

What inspires you during these challenging times?

Reading carefully researched history, like Ron Chernow’s Grant or Washington: A Life, or Robert Caro’s tomes on both Robert Moses and LBJ, which illustrate vividly that the US has faced many of the same challenges plaguing us today for as long as Europeans have lived in North America.

What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?

Don’t expect important improvements to happen quickly. Endlessly build alliances. Be a bridge-builder rather than a demolition specialist.

What is your favorite midnight snack?

I’m virtually never awake at midnight, but my typical post-dinner snacks include IPAs, dried Turkish apricots, Medjool dates, dried Turkish figs and lime-flavored corn chips.

Do you have any pets at home?

No pets, though I do love animals and had cats as a kid and dogs during my child-rearing days.

If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?

I would love to have been able to watch Socrates in action. His question-and-answer, always probing approach to raising and understanding philosophical issues must have been awe-inspiring.

Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?

The New Yorker, The Economist and NPR.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

The core lesson of Goethe’s Faust: namely, striving is what gives your life meaning. Striving to improve other’s lives, striving to better understand whatever is worth understanding, striving to improve your own competencies, etc. Once you couple that insight with Kant’s Categorical Imperative you have a dynamic sense of purpose guided by a strong moral compass.

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