February 10: Thoughts for the Day

“Walk a mile in another man’s shoes.” The source of this aphorism is variously ascribed to the Bible, to American Indians, and others, but the intended meaning is clear: empathy arises from having put oneself in the place of another, thereby developing an understanding of the circumstances that cause that person’s present predicament.

I think empathy is natural, but some people don’t seem to develop it to the extent that might be hoped.  Maybe empathy-training should be a required course in school and mandatory testing used to measure its retention.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to February 10: Thoughts for the Day

  1. Trish says:

    I recommend you try and see “Marty” sometime, John. It superb! No matter how many times I’ve watch it (and its been many), cannot get through it without a good cry. Very touching film!

    As to the question of teaching empathy, it a hard call and controversial , John. A taught feeling? Perhaps. It’s interesting, for in the world of psychology, as well as medical studies, its often agreed as much as it is debated, that the lack and or, void of empathy as is the case in some personality disorders is spawned from absence of nurturing, and is said to occur in the first 5 years of development. Or, another possible scenario is that empathy was already inborn, but its development interrupted/arrested, from the absence of nurturing?

    Perhaps “taught” was a badly chosen word, when my real meaning was your word “nurturing”. But, yes, John, I felt, and still feel that it should be part of the nurturing, most definitively. Is my son empathic? Yes, he is. Was it a result of anything I did? Alas, that question most likely will never be answered. I’m simply happy that he has it! 🙂

  2. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen “Marty.” What an exceptional scene that is, the conversation between two “dogs” who understand and appreciate one another’s pain. I love that line: “you get kicked around enough, you become quite a professor of pain.” There are so many ways of expressing the concept of empathy, but I think there’s only one way of experiencing it; am I right? Harper Lee put it as a walk around in another person’s skin. Paddy Chayefsky portrayed it as a learned feeling, created through experience. John Gunter’s analogy to heightened awareness, likening it to volume, is unique. But they all refer to the same experience. Even the different perspectives have the commonality of just what “it” is. You’ve given me an entirely different perspective on how to look at empathy, Juan. That’s one of the most enjoyable things about “talking” with you!

    Trish, it’s interesting that you say you taught empathy to your son. Do you think it’s entirely a learned behavior (or, perhaps, a learned feeling) or is it something that’s innate but needs nurturing?

  3. Trish says:

    Oh, this was great scene, Juan! 🙂 Yes, Marty and Clara were kindred spirits, both empathic, and carried similar pain, which was the magic of their to be bond, and eventual love for one another.

    I believe that perhaps empathy springs from early development instilling, in part…the foundation, the building blocks. I taught it to my son from the get go as best I could, for I thought it to be paramount. This I think is were the ability to feel the pain and suffering of other, even if none of it had happen to you. Well, that is empathy’s essences, after all.. And then there is the empathy, or perhaps “sensitivity” (which is a bit different), displayed here in this scene of “Marty.” The experienced pain that would obviously connect on a much more personal level, pulling at ones sensibility. Either way, I feel both of these are vital in the personal psyche.

  4. juan says:

    It is also used in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” though going like this:

    “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

    I often wondered about why some were more keen to “those sounds or feelings” and others were not. In fact, I have a very low tolerance for those who cannot. To me, it was all just a part of being “proper” … of being a human being.

    John Gunter, a colleague of mine at Del Mar and a great mentor, once spoke of this. He said that writers and poets are especially adept to this. While we hear at 10 decibels, they hear it like 100! We spoke of that feeling (empathy) as something like a “shining” from Stephen King’s novel — that some had this “shining” over others.

    Why? Is it learned — and then to others, does it come natural? I like the line from the Paddy Chayevski’s “Marty” — that “you get kicked around enough, you become quite a professor of pain.” Marty was talking about empathetic people.

    Maybe that’s part of it — the learning that comes from pain … the experience of being ostracized or hurt … surviving it — marginally — and then what that pain really means in someone you see experiencing it?

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