Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Do unto others...
I submit to you that you probably do not like all of the same things that I like. Possibly, you prefer tea and I like coffee. Or perhaps your idea of a relaxing time is a couple of drinks at the pub, and I'd much prefer a cuppa and my book. My point? The key to true functional empathy is envisaging not "what would I want in that situation", but rather "what is it that this other person might like". Imagining your own self in someone else's shoes is merely the first step to developing empathy - by embracing the idea that the other person in a situation is their own individual, has a different vantage point on it and has their own set of needs. However, this first exercise still only encourages thinking from your own viewpoint - recognising that others have needs, yes; but identifying what those needs are from your own point of view.
This is fine, and appropriate, for a child who is still coming to terms with the idea of other people as individuals who are not merely there for his own amusement and convenience! But as thinking adults, we ought to be able to go one step further and leap from "What would I want in your shoes" to "What would best help you, in your shoes?". The latter moves beyond merely recognising the separateness of another individual, to recognising the uniqueness of another individual and that what may be right for me, may not be right for them.
So...next time you're tempted to offer up a platitude, give someone space, a hug or a cuppa stop and ask yourself "Is this what they would want, or am I merely doing what I would want, because it's less effort than trying to wrap myself around their viewpoint?"
What do you think? Should we raise the bar from "treat others how you would want to be treated"?