It was a Saturday and I had our four children all to myself. We were planning to exit the house for a while. This would provide some welcome relief for my wife who was then bedbound with her last pregnancy.
The older children were scurrying around and independently putting on jackets and running shoes and heading for the van.
Our youngest, our 3 year-old daughter, repeatedly asked me for help with tying up her shoes. She quietly said, “Daddy, can you help me put on my shoes?”
I may not have heard her with all the commotion going on from her siblings. She repeated, “Daddy, can you help me put on my shoes?” I am sure I must have fleetingly said something like, “Sweetie, you can put your own shoes on now. You’re a big girl”
There she was again, “Daddy, can you help me put on my shoes?”
Then I caught on.
She had those Velcro strapped running shoes.
I bent down to her eye level and she smiled right at me. I helped her put on each shoe as she put her small hand on my shoulder to steady herself.
Our little girl wasn’t really asking me to put on her shoes. She wanted my undivided attention amidst the chaos of a large, consuming family.
I only saw her need when I got down to her level and viewed life through her eyes.
Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is not an easy task to do. That is what empathy is all about.
Someone else’s shoes are rarely the same size as yours and they can either be tight and hurt your feet or be loose and awkward to walk in.
Making the emotional connection of understanding how another person feels is so critical to compassion.
Then there is perspective taking of someone else’s viewpoint on life based on life experiences (like height, with my daughter’s scenario) and their needs.
The key here is trying to see things as others would see them.
My daughter repeatedly asked the same question and I made some glib comment back to her each time until I listened to what she really wanted.
A powerful answer to gaining empathy is listening deeply not only with our ears, but also with our eyes, and most importantly, with all of our heart.
And when you put someone else’s shoes on you have to adjust your feet, your body and your mind, to go in whatever direction they are going in versus your own judgmental direction.
Which means being open-minded to new ways of doing things.
Like doing up a child’s Velcro strapped shoes even when you know they can easily do it.
Question: How have you developed more empathy for those you work with?
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