Our last two posts about empathy have looked at what it isn’t, and a summary of what it is.
Dr Teresa Wiseman breaks down empathy into 4 parts: we have to:
1. See the world as others see it
2. Be non-judgmental
3. Understand another’s feelings, and
4. Communicate that understanding*
Today we’re looking at this idea of, ‘Seeing the world as others see it.’ In the 53 empathy references Wiseman looked at, all of them included this idea as important for empathy.
Now, I’m in my 50s now, so there’s already a barrier to to my being able to ‘see’ the world as a younger child – or even a teenager – might see it. But, according to Dr. Wiseman, I must overcome this if I’m to empathise properly.
In the book, ‘Roots of Empathy‘, Mary Gordon talks about empathy as ‘our ability to identify with the feelings and perspectives of others.’**
I need to see the world through different eyes, through new eyes – those of the child or young person I’m helping.
So how do we identify with a child’s perspective?
Developing a child’s-eye view
The first thing that strikes me is that I’m going to have to work at this and be very deliberate about it. I need to be reflective and thoughtful, to put in some time and effort in order to think about how the world looks to the kids I come across at work.
– Physical size – they are smaller than adults. That brings a unique vulnerability with it that we’ve probably long forgotten. What must it be like to look up at the world? To experience it from a lower level?
– Power – kids lack power of all kinds: financial, intellectual, physical, social, creative, influential.
– Status – children and teenagers don’t have status in the world. They can’t influence events like we can. They get carried along by those around them. They can’t lead like we can – they’re required to follow.
Then, hardest of all,…
– Experiences – the children we encounter have seen and heard things no-one ever should: complex bereavement, abusive adults, developmental trauma and all the associated ‘learning’ that comes with it all.
Just stopping and thinking about these simple, broad categories of things helps us to think about, and hopefully SEE more clearly, what the world is like from their perspective.
Taking time out to reflect on what we know about a child’s history, and about what the world might look like through their eyes, can help us be more empathic. This’ll take effort.
But if we make the effort and then allow the results to influence our practice, it’ll make all the difference to kids who lack the confidence and resources to navigate life on their own.
Part of our role – other than working hard to empathise more – is to influence others to do so, too. Other professionals, the child’s family members, etc.
We need to empathise with children – of course – but how much better would it be if we could encourage other adults to do the same? Go for it!
Previous related posts
*Wiseman, T. (1996) A Concept Analysis of Empathy. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 1996,23,1162-1167 – download.
Gordon, M. (2009) Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, The Experiment, New York – p.31 – learn more here.
Pass it on…
© Jonny Matthew 2018
Disclosure of material connection: Some of the above are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.