I just finished reading another great post by Timothy Monreal (@mryoungteacher) on “Teaching Empathy“. I do not disagree with Tim as I truly believe that the modeling of empathy and care is so important in our schools as well as in society. As I was reading it, though, I thought about one of my pet peeves: the statement “If I were in your shoes”.
Here is the thing: to be blunt, I appreciate the sympathy but you are NOT in my shoes so please do not pretend that you know what it is like to BE in my shoes. I have been speaking with a friend who has a child with a significant disability. He is doing his absolute best to make things work for his child along with his family. He came to me and said, “people keep telling me they know how I feel and then giving me advice on what they would do if they were in my shoes… they don’t know everything about me and they don’t know what it is like to me. I just wish people would give me some space”.
BOOM. We don’t know everything about what someone else is going through. All we know is what we are observing from our perspective. It is so important to model and practice empathy; however, we need to be careful to offer advice to people and pretend we know what it is like to BE them. We can often mistake sympathy with empathy.
The most important thing we can do is listen, truly listen. Be there… be there in the moment with that person. Listen with your eyes. If advice is requested, let’s ‘walk’ with the person and give advice from our shoes… and not pretend we actually understand what it is like to live in in the shoes of someone else.
Something I continue to work on…