Put yourself in my shoes.
We are often invited to take a mile-long walk in shoes that aren’t our own — maybe during an argument, maybe in the midst of a discussion or explanation, but always during matters of perspective. And that is the key. Perspective. Everyone’s is different, and, so is the invitation to test the other side out.
But, how often do we actually do it? How often are we able to really put ourselves in that person’s place? The invitation itself is a difficult one to RSVP to. First of all, we must take into consideration the person making the invitation. Who is this person? What have their experiences been? What are their hot buttons, their issues, their passions? Who have they been and how far have they come? We have to know the person to some degree before we can consider trying on their brand new, unbroken-in shoes. Why? Because we aren’t being asked to slip on those glass slippers and prance around doing what we, the person we are — with our own issues, and history, and buttons to push, would do.
We are being invited to take on, if only for a moment, the essence of a whole new and different person, then slide on those shoes and see for ourselves how uncomfortable, confusing, frightening, joyful, depressing, angering, or whatever else they might be. It is a request that places a lot of trust on the person on the receiving end of the conversation. Such an invitation is a door to vulnerability with a “Welcome” mat stretched across the front.
That is what Empathy is. It is not the action of looking at another person’s life through the scope of your own experience and feeling for them. Rather, it is the opportunity to look at that person’s life through entirely new eyes, their eyes, and feel with them. And what a rare and honorable privilege it is to be invited; as such, we must respect that request with our most sincere and genuine response: The understanding that you are not asking me to decide if I would have done the same, but rather that, had I truly been you, I might have done just as You did.
It is the difference between hitting too hard and looking at our partner with pity — and maybe a little guilt for the pain we caused without actually knowing if we caused any pain, and seeing and feeling the hit as your partner truly might have felt it; it means that you have to know your partner, their strength, their story, their injuries, and in some cases their height, weight, and rank, I suppose. But, it is a very different thing we do when we gently tap our partner’s broken rib, than it is when we deliver a solid kick to a healthy thigh. Still, without the ability to be truly and honestly empathic, to sincerely place ourselves in our partner’s shoes, we’ll never really feel the difference in between those hits or any other we deliver along the way.
Every time we step on the training mat, whether at the dojo or in our everyday lives, we are sending out that very invitation to every member of the session, saying, “Please, put yourself in my shoes. This is my skill, my experience, my strength, my fear. This is who I am. This is what I have done. This is what I can do. Can you see it? Do you see how it came to be this way? Now,can you help me grow?”